Blindlist & Blackspot

Blindspot-0This past weekend, weary of political pundits pondering the pending Primary, I thought I’d submit to the advertising and buzz surrounding the new NBC show, Blindspot. All of the first ten episodes are currently available through Ondemand, and the network has really been pushing the show.

So on Saturday I sat down, popcorn at the ready, to binge watch those episodes. I’ll give you the punchline now: By the tenth episode I was pretty fed up with it.

It seems to be an inferior take on another NBC show, The Blacklist.

And The Blacklist, as I’ve said before, is quite good. Blindspot steals many of its beats and wraps them in a series that’s even more preposterous than The Blacklist (which is quite preposterous, but carries it well).

Let me warn you right now: Spoilers! Both in the sense of mentioning aspects of the plot arc and in the sense of dissing the show (because it’s clichéd and derivative and brutal without grace).

Forever Castle

The imitator lasted one season. The original is still going after eight.

As I watched those ten episodes, I was increasingly struck by how much the show riffs on a sister show, The Blacklist.

It reminds me of how much the ABC show, Forever (remember that one?), was so much like another ABC show, Castle (see this post for details).

Firstly, there is the similarity in names: “Blindspot” versus “Blacklist.”

Both words made of two smaller words, and in both cases, a five-letter word beginning with ‘B’ followed by a four-letter word. And the ‘B’ word in both cases is ‘B’ followed by ‘l’ followed by a vowel and then two consonants.

Coincidence? I think not. [Descartes said that once and vanished!]

Consider how the following list applies to both shows:

  1. Center on the FBI.
  2. A Mysterious Person appears to help the FBI.
  3. The Mysterious Person is linked a specific FBI agent who is required to be involved.
  4. The MP and the FBI agent have a mysterious past history together.
  5. This past history seems to involve family and criminality.
  6. The reasons for the MP showing up are unknown.
  7. The MP has clues or information that helps the FBI solve cases.
  8. There is a darker plot involving FBI and other political leaders.
  9. The show is structured as an unfolding puzzle.
  10. The show indulges in a high level of brutality and violence.
  11. There is an important romantic connection between the main female and an important male character.

One thing (and it’s a big thing) Blindspot lacks is the stellar and nuanced performance of James Spader as Raymond Reddington.

Blindspot-1

The Beauty…

Instead we have the thug-like character, Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton), whose name is prominently tattooed on the back of the “Jane Doe” (Jaimie Alexander) character (thus requiring his involvement).

Weller is the standard TV action figure, all action and muscle, and equipped with the standard four-day beard (I invented that look back in the 1970s). As per usual for such cardboard cutouts, he’s short on brains, but his gut is always right because script.

And he lacks the humanity of his closest counterpart in The Blacklist, FBI agent Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff). All in all, in my book, Kurt Weller is a complete zero and a detraction. That character is one reason the show fails completely with me.

A strong male action figure should be someone women want to fuck and men want to be. Tom Selleck was the first actor where I realized that was true. His serious attractiveness to women wasn’t off-putting because I wanted to be him.

Blindspot-2

…and the Beast.

Compare Kurt Weller’s ignorant testosterone-fueled hot lead overdrive to Ray Reddington or, better yet, to NCIS Special Agent Leroy Gibbs (or his counterpart, SA Dwayne Pride).

These are the real men, the real heroes, the worthies. Compared to them, Weller is a petulant whining child, a blunt instrument compared to finely crafted tool.

I would note, too, that both Stapleton and Alexander were cast at least as much for their looks as anything else (in contrast to The Blacklist where the characters are longer on character and personality than on looks). Blindspot is a fairly shallow show in that regard; the way things look is more important than what they are.

Blindspot also has a flaw common to lots of LEO-type shows, especially those that focus on a team. There is a conceit that all action is performed by the team, who often seem to transcend physical distance in arriving at various scenes just in time (or just too late if the script requires that).

Sif

Oh, Sif! No wonder she looks so familiar!

No one ever seems to contact police units that may be close and able to respond much quicker. No, the team is always rushing off and, through the magic of editing, arriving moments later.

In a better, more interesting, show, we tend to not notice it, but when a show starts to be boring, predictable, and derivative, it starts to stand out.

And then there is the violence, which is pretty extreme and sometimes brutal. The Blacklist is similar in that regard, but tends to lack the casual thousand-round gun play so beloved by American viewers. Firing multiple rounds after a fleeing crook is just our friendly way of saying, “Hey, stop. Come back.”

The unfolding mystery plot has become a staple in TV. It has its roots in the mini-series, Roots. TV executives discovered then that American viewers will follow a story over multiple episodes.

One can chart that progress in the different Star Trek series.

ST-TOS

Boldly going episodically!

The original show (Kirk and crew) was entirely episodic. You can watch those in any order. No episode really affects any other episode.

By the time of Picard and crew (TNG), we saw stories told over two or three (or even four) episodes. We even saw cliff-hanger season ends.

By the time of Sisko (DS9), Janeway (VOY), and Archer (ENT), we saw season-long, and even series-long, story arcs (especially with ENT).

These are now common, and most shows have story arcs over seasons, if not the entire series. (One might distinguish between progression (where characters evolve over time) and planned story arcs with intended future resolution.)

The main attraction is obvious: viewer addiction (and — in this case — titillation). In fairness, it does allow writers to tell more involved stories. I don’t really have any problem with the concept. I just wish it was done better sometimes (by which I mean less obvious and more organic — I hate it when I can see the scaffolding).

Blindspot-3

Engage prurience!

What does bother me (a lot) is the growing perception I have that our entertainment tends to infantilize us. The popularity, among adults, of video games has always bemused me.

Certainly some of the more sophisticated games can be quite engaging, but Angry Birds and Candy Crush? I totally don’t get that (and it makes me wonder WTF is wrong with people).

Among gamers, a big thing was getting a system with enough sheer horsepower to make the game play realistic. Now people are playing low-rez games on hand-held devices. Damned strange.

And our most popular movies are little more than amusement park rides. Which are fun, but shallow and ultimately empty. I started watching the new Mad Max movie yesterday…

I turned it off after 40 minutes, because I was utterly bored.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

22 responses to “Blindlist & Blackspot

  • rung2diotimasladder

    I’ve never heard of either of those shows, but that’s not really surprising. Just started “Better Call Saul”…so far not bad. I just watched the first two episodes last night, and there you have a lot of slow but not boring moments. But you were never a Breaking Bad fan, if I remember correctly?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      The Blacklist is, I think, excellent. It invokes my violence flags a bit, but I’m not actually prudish about violence, per se (Tarantino is one of my favorite directors). I have concerns about how it permeates every damn thing in entertainment. It’s the steady diet aspect I don’t like. Or the implication the violence is a viable solution rather than a last resort.

      But it’s pretty original and very well written (although they just can’t resist some of the tropes). It’s sort of an “odd couple detective” pairing; in this case she’s an FBI agent, he’s an infamous CIA agent who turned into an international criminal mastermind and who has now surrendered (secretly) to the FBI to give them information (at a rate of one per episode) that allows them to catch major international criminals.

      Who just happen to all be his criminal competition (should this all be a scam). Plus there’s an international political cabal that controls the world and wants him dead, so these criminals he’s helping the FBI catch are also all helping him get closing to dealing with the cabal.

      And there’s some sort of history between him and the FBI gal, and it’s clearly a bond based on love and responsibility. And there’s a whole bunch of other stuff going on. As those shows go, I think it’s outstanding.

      Plus there’s James Spader who is just awesome in the role. (Did you ever see him in Two Days in the Valley? Crime flick. I highly recommend it.)

      I’ve come to realize that, as important as quality storytelling is to me, it is almost equally important to like the characters (not just like, but approve of). And I want there to be love and joy in the story. (The world is gritty and ugly enough; I don’t need it in my stories.)

      Nothing I’ve heard about Breaking Bad makes me think I’d like it. The main character’s choices and profession are alone enough to turn me off (likewise Dexter, another show that by all accounts is very well done). From what I can tell, he participates in the destruction of the lives of many other people for personal (albeit mortal) reasons. That’s not a trade-off I can accept. It strikes me as incredibly immoral.

      A movie is one thing (as I said, I love Tarantino). I can find even the truly evil interesting for that long (although I’d as soon have other characters to balance that). But I get too invested in TV series to take to someone I think is that far wrong. The original twists people seem to like aren’t enough to raise it above the bar for me.

      I had trouble with Seinfeld, and those people were just icky, not evil. But the brilliance of the writing made up for it. That show very much entered our culture (and, to its credit, so has BB).

      • rung2diotimasladder

        I love Dexter too! I guess I love the bad characters. What’s intriguing about that one is that it’s similar to Breaking Bad, except it goes from bad to good. It’s the reverse. Dexter starts off as a complete sociopath and slowly, gradually evolves to care for people.

        Well, another series we recently watched might be more up your alley. Have you seen “Battle Creek”?

        I’ll have to check out the Blacklist. I see it’s there on Netflix. That’ll be our next marathon (after Better Call Saul).

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yes, I liked Battle Creek! (Pity it didn’t last.) Characters I wouldn’t mind knowing, decent values all around, and a pretty cute take on buddy cop shows.

        Characters who are self-destructive can be very interesting; most of us can identify with them on some level (some of us more than others). Characters who are destructive of those around them are a different kind of study. They are entirely legitimate in storytelling; it’s a personal distaste on my part that often makes them off-putting to me.

        And, more and more, I’m just weary of the current modes of dystopic and dysfunctional storytelling.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        I felt the same way about Battle Creek. I need more episodes!

        I watched a few more episodes of “Better Call Saul” and I think you might want to give it a shot. He’s not the Saul you think of in Breaking Bad. He has a history of scamming, but has turned away from that. Now he’s a lawyer who holds his office in the back of a nail salon (and that’s also his home, apparently). At every turn he gets tempted to engage in criminal activity, but he struggles to avoid it, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing (depending on how criminal the activity is…he doesn’t want to hurt anyone). It’s cleverly done. The scams of his past are hilarious. He’s definitely not an evil character. I’d say clever and desperate.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It surprised me a bit that Battle Creek got canceled. I can never understand why some shows survive (Mom, for example) and others don’t. No accounting for taste, as they say.

        The buzz I got from ads for Better Call Saul was definitely better than I got from BB, so the show is on the list of possible shows to check out… someday. The thing is, that list is rather long. I’m just now getting around to exploring South Park (which is outstanding).

        It’s not uncommon for me to wait until a show has been around for a while before checking it out. It’s nice to see what is the cumulative buzz over time for a show. Some peak early and don’t live up to it; some turn out to be very niche (and maybe not my niche). Some slow burners turn out to be cult favorites.

        Kinda depends on topic or who’s doing the show. There are some that I’ll jump on immediately hoping for a hit. I’m prone to LEO and legal shows, or anything Sherlockean, but (oddly one might think considering my reading material) I’m pretty picky about TV SF (most of which I think is utter crap, but I’ve been spoiled by Star Trek and Doctor Who).

        Do you watch the BBC’s Sherlock? (It’s outstanding and done by the same guys doing Doctor Who these days.) There’s finally a new one out, and it’s awesome! They found a way to tell a Sherlock story in period! XD (If you don’t know about the show, it’s a very accurate retelling except that it’s modern day.)

      • rung2diotimasladder

        I LOVE Sherlock. That’s my favorite show! (Another one that needs more episodes.) That new one in period baffled my husband too much, and I think he jumped the train. I thought it was great.

        I’m really surprised that you’re a South Park fan. I dunno. Seems a bit on the grotesque side…but maybe it helps that it’s a cartoon?

        I tried getting into Doctor Who, but it just didn’t take for me. I can’t really say why. It was okay.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, Sherlock is excellent! I know what you mean about episodes. Each “season” is just three episodes, and it seems like the seasons are more than a year apart. Time travel, and certain kinds of fantasy or dream plots, can confuse some people (often people who tend to be “literal minded”). I remember Pulp Fiction was said to confuse a lot of people (heh, let alone something like Memento).

        South Park isn’t for the faint of heart, but its values are actually quite good. Comedy plays a special role in society in allowing exploration of topics that are hard to talk about otherwise. For example, I’ve learned some deep “secrets” about female sexuality from listening to female comics (and, likewise, seen my own reflected, and thus validated, in male comics). Some of the best comedy makes us squirm as we laugh.

        And as with all art, the really good stuff always reflects the human condition. Which, frankly, is often grotesque. XD

        The animation, particularly the sparse nature of it, definitely helps. In one episode, a sub-point involves how people (and, in fact, many animals) often shit themselves when they die because all the muscles relax (and sphincters are muscles). A common fact almost never shown in any TV show or movie featuring freshly dead people. (Very rarely, an attending detective will wrinkle their nose at the smell or something along those lines, but it’s often subtle; you have to watch for it.)

        So, during the South Park episode, of course several people (and a dog) die, and the resulting explosion of shit bursts out the back of their pants and splatters whatever’s behind. Something you just couldn’t show other than as very simplistic animation (and it’s still a testament to current TV standards that it can be shown at all).

        Comedy pushes the boundaries, and I love it for that! 😀

        I think Doctor Who might be one of those things that one either just loves or just doesn’t take to. It probably helps a lot to have a long history of reading science fiction. The show does trade on a lot of SF tropes (often turning them on their head). It might require a gourmet to love.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        My friends really like SP, but I just haven’t gotten into it. Maybe it’s the voices? I dunno. On the other hand, I love Louie C.K. He gets pretty grotesque, but he never crosses the line for me. I think it’s his delivery more than anything…he goes off on wild tangents that really seem impromptu, but then he goes back to the topic. I’ve seen others try that technique, but few get it right.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Taste, especially when it comes to comedy, is hard to pin down and explain sometimes. Because of this discussion I’ve been kind of watching myself watching SP and trying to figure out why SP but (apparently) not others. I’m not sure it’s as simple as a list of bullet points, pro and con.

        As you say, maybe it’s the voices or the animation style or even how the underlying sensibilities of the show’s authors comes through. Why do I love The Simpsons and Futurama, and like SP a lot, but American Dad and Family Guy have zero appeal to me. Those first three grabbed me immediately; the last two equally immediately turned me off.

        Why? [shrug] Who knows. Taste.

        Which, as they say, no one can account for. XD

        Louie C.K. is a good example. I really like the guy’s stand up routines, which I’ve watched going back to his early stand up days. And he’s really good. But for some reason his TV show (and I’ve watched several episodes) just hasn’t grabbed me. But why? No idea!

        Maybe, like a number of other TV series, I’m just saving it for later. SP was kind of that way, and there are other shows I know are good that are just waiting for me to get around to them.

        And then there are ones like Blindspot which is now off the list. 😮

      • rung2diotimasladder

        It’s so true about taste in comedy. You can give your bullet points, and everyone might agree with them, but then when it gets down to what meets those criteria, you’ll find disagreement.

        I showed a video of the Rubber Bandits to a friend’s girlfriend, a we nearly peed our pants laughing at it. Then I showed it to my friend (her boyfriend) and he said, “Wow. I wish I could have those minutes of my life back.” I thought for sure he’d find it funny, but it turned out that his girlfriend and I had a similar taste in comedy. (First of all, that we liked it. Second of all, we liked similar things. She was the one who turned me on to Louie C.K. Although, she’s also a huge SP fan.)

        On Louie, the TV show, I loved the airplane scene. Did you catch that episode? The stewardess gives him a thimble of water, then just as he’s about to take a drink, she takes it away. That scene hit on everything that sucks about flying and did it in a hilarious hyperbolic way.

        Also love his stand up. The Cinnabun bit…so hilarious.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I believe comedy is harder and more subtle than drama, which is why so many comedians turn out to be good actors (but fewer dramatic actors turn out to be funny). If you can do comedy, drama is pretty easy.

        That difficulty of taste applies two-fold in comedy: There is whether the mode appeals to you (I really don’t care for slapstick, for example), and there is whether the gags work for you (even when the mode works).

        Sorry, I did not see the airplane scene. 😦

  • dianasschwenk

    I can always count on you to say it as it is Smitty! ❤
    Diana xo

    • Wyrd Smythe

      It’s an interesting question, what if everyone did?

      Or,… why doesn’t everyone? ❓

      • dianasschwenk

        Well because many are afraid of hurting another’s feelings. In Quebec where I grew up, everyone just said what they were thinking. When I moved out west I was surprised how many folks were so sensitive. Well turns out I’m pretty sensitive too. Back home I had just built up a tough shell!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It’s one of the interesting conundrums in social interaction, the line between saying what you really think versus transferring your own feelings of sensitivity on behalf of others and thereby considering their feelings.

        As you know, I tend to be more on the side of honesty — what others might think of as bluntness — but (and this is important) being mean is a whole other thing. “Being honest” isn’t an excuse to just up and tell someone they look like shit. But if they were about to go into an important interview, and there was some corrective action they could take, telling them would be a friendly act.

        I know you tend towards kindness and positiveness, and as I’ve said before, you’re one of my touchstones in that regard. (I literally sometimes think, “What would Di do? How would she react?”) The flip side of that from my perspective is that I’m not always sure I’m getting the whole story. I do generally have a thick skin, and I would rather know what’s really on peoples’ minds. On some level, I perceive people who are sparing my feelings as not being entirely honest with me.

        I rely on feedback from others to help me become a better person, better artist. If people only tell me positive things, I have less incentive to grow.

      • dianasschwenk

        Aww how sweet Smitty. ❤
        Don't get me wrong. I do get to the truth. I just tip toe until I test the waters. I get there. Just takes a bit longer. ❤
        Diana xo

      • Wyrd Smythe

        All that tip toeing sounds like a lot of work! XD

        OTOH, making up for hurting someone’s feelings is even more work! o_O

  • ~ Sadie ~

    Hey WS! I never could get into Blindspot, but LOVE The Blacklist!! Never been much of a video game player, either – but love to try & tilt a good pinball machine any day 🙂 (And I agree with your sentiment re: Candy Crush & Angry Birds LOL!!!)

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Hi Sadie. Did you watch Blindspot at all, or just not take any traction from the commercials? (There are shows where even the ads make it pretty clear it’s not my cuppa.)

      Damn, I can’t remember the last time I played pinball! You’re right; there’s something nice about a physical game. Touch screens are for weenies! XD

      (I’ve been playing this game I dug out of my toy chest recently. It’s called Lights Out. About the size of two iPhones next to each other. Has a 5×5 grid of buttons that light up. You punch buttons to turn them on and off according to a simple rule. The game involves a starting pattern, and you have to get all the lights off. It’s physical; the buttons actually press.)

      • ~ Sadie ~

        Yes, I watched the first “Blindspot” and with all the other shows I watch, it just didn’t catch my attention enough for me to spend any more time on it. I have never heard of the game Lights Out & even when I checked out your link, didn’t ring a bell. But, I was in college during that time & had very little time for anything other than school & spending time with my family. I have my own pinball machine – 1979 Bally Future Spa 🙂 It’s a great stress reliever!!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, I watched the first one and wasn’t entirely grabbed but also wasn’t entirely turned off. I was so sick of all the political talk, I needed a break, and since I was caught up on my usual shows, I binged the other nine eps. Oh, well, lesson learned.

        Your own pinball machine! Jealous!! 😮

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