Monday, March 17, 2014

Pilot Review: Crisis

Crisis (Sundays at 10:00 on NBC)

Remember when Lost and 24 were the biggest shows on TV and then every show for two or so seasons was about people either vanishing or being kidnapped or held hostage or some crazy combination of those shows? Crisis is the latest in that vein, a 24-esque political conspiracy thriller that's coming a few years late to the party. I'm not saying it's bad, because it's not; it's not even all that reductive. It's just reminiscent enough of bigger and better things to detract from its own merits, and it takes itself a little too seriously for its own good.

NBC's latest begins promisingly enough. It's field trip day at Ballard High School, an institution for DC's elite to send their children. Among the dozens of teenagers crowding a bus for New York are the daughter (Halston Sage) of a an international IT company's CEO, Meg Fitch (Gillian Anderson of The X Files fame); a renowned scientist's genius son, Anton (Joshua Erenberg); chaperone and former CIA analyst, Francis Gibson (Dermot Mulroney); his estranged daughter, Beth Ann (Stevie Lynn Jones); and the President's son and Secret Service guards, including first-day-rookie Marcus Finley (Lance Gross, Tyler Perry's House of Payne). En route to their destination, the bus is suddenly hijacked by a group of masked men, led into a trap by one of the Special Agents. The children are kidnapped, except for Anton, who manages to escape with Finely, and taken to a remote location without any immediate ransom demands; they simply disappear. Enter the FBI and task force leader Susie Dunn (Rachael Taylor, 666 Park Avenue), whose sister is Meg Fitch and whose niece was one of the taken.

It's an interesting general premise: kidnap the children of the nation's most powerful people to see how far they'll go to get the kids back. That raises some really interesting questions for future episodes about the good of one versus the good of many, and it sets up the opportunity for an almost procedural approach to the hostage-situation if each episode sees a new parent being contacted with ransom instructions. And the script by Rand Ravich, who also created Life on NBC in 2007, offers plenty of twists and excitement. It's just in the tone and execution that something in Crisis gets lost. It takes itself way too seriously, from the overbearing and overly sentimental score by John Paesano to the frantic quick cuts to the melodramatic performances of many of the teenagers (particularly Jones, the most annoying of the large group). Crisis just isn't that serious; it should be more fun than that.

This is most clearly evident in the central performances of the adult characters. Dermot Mulroney has taken a page out of the book on scenery-chewing co-authored by James Spader and James Cromwell. He's having a grand old time on screen playing both meek and brave, alternatively, and it shows. Lance Gross gets to play a kind of super-human, a man who gets shot in the ribs and then drags an overweight boy through miles of woods and then up the roof of an abandoned cabin. He's an engaging everyman hero, nodding his head to the absurdity of his character while still grounding it in some realism. Gillian Anderson (still a stunner so many years after The X Files went off air) is delicious, playing her role as equal parts uptight bitch and concerned mother. Her interactions with Rachael Taylor, the emotional center of Crisis, are the show's best. But together, these actors prove that Crisis isn't all doom-and-gloom; they each have some over-the-top moments, some even bordering on camp (in the vein of old James Bond villains), that cut through the intensity. If Crisis could strike a more even balance between these moments and the melodramatic ones with the teenagers, I'd consider it a bigger success.

As it stands now, however, Crisis is more interesting than it is engaging. I really am curious to learn more about some of these characters, and I'm especially intrigued by the kidnappers' endgame. But I don't know if the show, itself, is worth investing in. Crisis is light years ahead of this season's other hostage-situation drama (Hostages on CBS), but both suffer from the same narrow scope (ie: how do these shows continue for multiple episodes, let alone multiple seasons) and a barrage of unnecessary plot contrivances. If Crisis can streamline its story and loosen up a bit, it'll be one to watch.

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