The Blacklist Series Premiere Review “Pilot”

The broadcast network drama is in a weird space. The Big 4 have begun to acknowledge the difficulty of crafting a 22 episode season of a drama that’s not completely episodic. With so many episodes to fill, networks have virtually thrown in the towel when it comes to high-stakes drama. They can’t compete, and they know it, so the model has changed. They’re no longer searching for groundbreaking, merely entertaining.

In many ways, The Blacklist fits the new model of the network action drama: Everything in excess with no aspirations whatsoever. The pilot alone features an action sequence on a bridge, the entire backstory of Red Reddington as told to us by the furrowing brow of an FBI agent (played with adequacy by Diego Klatenhoff of Homeland fame), adoption meetings, hostage situations, and a husband with multiple identities and a box of cash. (Is this a new requirement of all TV husbands? Walter White ruins everything again.) It’s as if the show realizes it doesn’t have much to offer so it keeps throwing things in your face when the star isn’t on the screen.

It should come as no surprise that the saving grace of this pilot is James Spader. He’s everything you would expect Spader to be in the role: charming, funny, and really creepy. It’s definitely tough to ignore the Hannibal Lecter undertones in all of his scenes with Megan Boone. While perhaps not a direct homage, the show is definitely doing the obvious wink in Hannibal’s direction. Spader is a very talented actor who raises the ceiling in every scene he’s in, but the show is going to need consistent efforts from its supporting players if it hopes to stay creatively fresh.

Spearheading the People Other Than Spader team is Megan Boone. In addition to being easy on the eyes and a wonderful interview, Boone acquits herself well in the pilot as first day profiler Elizabeth Keen. Boone definitely gets a lot to considering Keen has maybe the most stressful 24 hour period in the history of the modern world, but it remains to be seen what the show really wants to do with her character. Obviously she’s doing her most interesting work when she’s opposite Spader, but the husband/adoption/multiple identities angle suggests she’s going to be more than a straight woman to Spader. Regardless of what they choose to do with her, a great deal of the long-term success of the show is going to rest with her character. Given the pilot and the new drama slate in general, it’s tough to imagine the show taking her character anywhere that’s going to be worth following on a week-to-week basis.

I don’t think you’ll leave many episodes of The Blacklist feeling disappointed. There’s enough action and Spader there to make the show harmless. However, there’s not going to be a weekly mandate to follow this show. It’s just another in a long line of crime fighting procedurals. The thing that sets it apart is Spader. If that’s enough for you, then you’ll probably enjoy The Blacklist. If you’re looking for a little more, I don’t think you’re going to find it here.