NBC needs a win right now and the James Spader starring vehicle The Blacklist
might be just what the doctor ordered. The beleaguered network keeps taking chances and striking out, but in this FBI procedural they may actually have a hit.
Part Silence of the Lambs and part standard procedural, The Blacklist premieres on the air as a smoothly polished package. Unlike some other shows of the new fall season which show promise but ultimately aren't there yet, you can imagine exactly what a first season of The Blacklist looks like. Probably because the show's future formula is set up nicely by the end of the pilot and honestly all but given away by most of the promos. In a fall season all too short on watchable dramas, The Blacklist leaves the rest of the pack in its dust.
The show revolves around Raymond "Red" Reddington, a comic book supervillain name if ever there was one, who turns himself into the FBI in the opening moments of the show. We know there's more going on behind Reddington's surface when he politely folds his jacket, moments before being surrounded by every FBI agent in the building.
The fact that the FBI immediately stuffs Reddington into a high-tech containment cell, like he's Magneto from X-Men, is further proof he's a brilliant criminal mastermind. Reddington, with all of James Spader's considerable charm, agrees to help the FBI catch another wanted criminal about to unleash a terrorist attack. The one wrinkle is that he'll only work with Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), a novice profiler about to start a massively bad first day on the job.
While the pilot contains a good number of twists and turns, what will most likely bring audiences back for a second helping are the leads' performances. As Reddington, Spader is at his wildest, scenery-chewing best. He's having a great time and it absolutely shows. Unlike in his brief stint on The Office, Spader's kooky energy works perfectly with the character, making Reddington diabolically watchable.
Of course, to a certain extent you know what you're getting when you hire or watch a known property like Spader. The real surprise here is Megan Boone playing rookie profiler Elizabeth Keen. We're first introduced to the character on her first day, late for work, as she chats with her supportive husband about adopting a baby and carpooling. It's not exactly the first impression of a tough and hardened FBI profiler.
Yet moments later when she's taken in to speak with her superiors (played by Harry Lennix and Diego Klattenhoff) her demeanor changes. Suddenly she's tough, self-effacing, and entirely capable of going toe-to-toe with Reddington. It's one of a few twists in the pilot, but it's one of the most enjoyable.
Boone's performance in the pilot is altogether as interesting to watch as Spader's, and its the interplay between these two characters which is likely to ground the show going forward. Neither are who they first appear. Reddington might be looking out for Elizabeth or just for himself. Elizabeth might be haunted by her past, but that doesn't detract from her steely determination. How these characters connect and ultimately work together will be the real driving force behind The Blacklist, not the titular list of criminal names.
Yet thanks to that list (and those strong performances) NBC might just have a hit on their hands: a character-driven procedural.
What do you think? Are you looking forward to The Blacklist? Sound off in the comments!