Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pilot Review: Blindspot

Blindspot (Mondays at 10:00 on NBC; Premieres September 21)

The comparisons to a myriad of previous shows and movies, from the Jason Bourne series of novels and films to NBC's own former Monday night success The Blacklist, are inevitable with Blindspot. It's an action series that's also a procedural, a show heavy with shootouts, fight choreography, and conspiracies. But despite all this, Blindspot does still carve out its own niche in the broadcast landscape (there are bevy of other procedurals for audiences to choose from, including this show's direct competition on both ABC and CBS, but nothing else with the same popcorn-flick feel) and manages to be a bit smarter and cooler than one may expect based on the shoot-'em-up promotional materials currently in mass circulation.

Just in case you haven't seen one of the seemingly endless commercials, trailers, billboards, pop-ups, banners or whatever for Blindspot, it concerns a woman (Jaimie Alexander, Kyle XY, the Thor films) who is found zipped inside a duffel bag in Times Square. After she emerges, the FBI is called in to find out who she is, because she doesn't have any memories. All she has is head-to-toe, freshly inked tattoos covering her body. The most glaring reads "Kurt Weller FBI." Weller (Strike Back's Sullivan Stapleton) is called in, but he doesn't recognize the woman either. Together, they attempt to get to the bottom of her identity and to decode the meanings of her tattoos, which lead them to criminal happenings they then stop.

Alexander's turn as the tattooed woman is the performance highlight. There's little depth to her character, obviously, but she plays the wide-eyed fear and confusion of waking up having to rediscover your own identity well. There's a lot of focus in the pilot on the actors' eyes: widening in fear, narrowing in concentration, red with emotion, squinting in pain, welling with tears, vacant with questions. Alexander's are the most expressive, but Stapleton's eyes are the core of his performance. Weller is nothing like Strike Back's Damien Scott, so Stapleton isn't having nearly as much fun with the role; Weller is quiet, reserved, brooding, constantly thinking and wondering and questioning, especially trying to figure out how he came to be embroiled in Jane Doe's mystery. So there's no over-the-top action comedy for him to play in Blindspot, so he relies primarily on his eyes to portray Weller, and it pays off. (I also really like the idea of Stapleon as a leading man, because he's ruggedly attractive but far from flawless.) Both Alexander and Stapleton are fine leads (though their chemistry together isn't quite there yet), and they're the only subtle actors in an otherwise standard procedural cast: tech nerd, blustery captain, etc. Creator Martin Gero (the Stargate franchise) let his own script down in that department, focusing more on building a twisty plot with multiple mysteries than on developing characters (even with Jane Doe being a mostly blank state, the few bits of her background we get are based on physicality and events, not so much personality traits).

The pilot is frenetic, full of quick cuts and jumpy camera work and facial close-ups and swelling music and scenes that are barely a minute long each. It's the kind of direction and editing typically saved for summer action blockbusters like the Fast & Furious movies, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It gives the episode a sense of urgency and anxiety, putting the audience in the same mindset as Jane Doe. The opening scene of an unattended bag in Times Square smash cut to the overcrowded tourist destination completely void of human presence is startling, and the episode never slows down afterward. We immediately go to Kentucky, where Weller is wrapping up an abduction case, then to the FBI labs in Manhattan, to Chinatown, to the subway system, to Liberty Island, all intercut with fight scenes, explosions, chases, and shootouts. It's thrilling, fast-paced, but ultimately a bit exhausting as well. So much happens in the pilot, and by the end so much information is given and plot points introduced, that Blindspot becomes bogged down under its own weight. Its similarities to summer action flicks should be the show's guide: be simple, fun, fast, and mildly intriguing. It's easier to commit to a new show that's interesting but not overly complicated. If Blindspot can manage to control its impulse to over-stuff itself to the point of bursting, it could be a really entertaining bit of escapism. The pilot is definitely eye-catching and enjoyable, now if Gero can just reel his ideas in and spread them out over time, rather than in the last five minutes of every episode, it could be great, water-cooler fun.

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