I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Banshee S01E01: "Pilot"

The two best things that the new Cinemax original series have going for it are the fact that Alan Ball is involved in the project and the fact that Cinemax is cable television and thus is immune from the "if it is good, it will be canceled" disease. If you want to read a positive review of Banshee, this paragraph will have to suffice. Consult that friend of yours who likes everything and ask him/her what he/she thought.

While Alan Ball is certainly credited as an Executive Producer, very little of his vision can be seen in Banshee. The people who are really in charge are Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler. If you are expecting Six Feet Under television programming, you will be disappointed. I wouldn't even expect True Blood quality television, although this show could certainly benefit from the campy sense of humor that the supernatural romance program offers. This is not Alan Ball, and it is not the series that is going to put Cinemax up there with Showtime and HBO as the home to great drama.

The pilot of Banshee does exactly what every cable television program does in its first episode. It establishes quickly that you are going to be able to see naked people, women especially. Shortly thereafter, it introduces you to one or two characters that you are likely to want to see naked in the future. This is the hook for most mindless viewers, and nearly every successful cable program has had these, but the really good ones complement the hook with character development and a good story. Banshee throws in some violence, bad language, and teenagers making bad decisions and calls it a day.

As for the story, it is a typical small-town Yojimbo set-up. A dishonorable hero enters town. In this instance, it is ex-convict Lucas Hood (who looks nearly identical to his antagonist in the opening sequence - at least in Anime they change hair color or clothing in order to distinguish clones). Hood is inevitably going to have a show-down with the bad men and women who run this town. He's inevitably going to lose a lot. But he's inevitably going to win and look really cool in the process. He will probably spit blood often.

I can't say that the actors are unskilled at acting. I can say that they didn't get much of a chance to do so. There seems to be very little character development written into this script, and where it is present it is carried out in stereotypical ways: a bar conversation here, a lingering shot on a disturbed woman there. You know the drill. Sometimes it feels like the dialogue is approaching clever. There was a lawyer in the beginning who said, "Is that a judge in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" If this line were brought up and buttressed by other smart and funny dialogue, I might think we were dealing with something interesting. But it was alone, and it honestly felt like a fluke.

Banshee is a bust. It doesn't leave me wanting to watch the next episode. It leaves me hoping that other television programs premiering this month like The Following and The Americans have the strength to fill the gap in good new programming.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

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