This 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).
As I watched those ten episodes, I was increasingly struck by how much the show riffs on a sister show, The Blacklist.
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:
- Center on the FBI.
- A Mysterious Person appears to help the FBI.
- The Mysterious Person is linked a specific FBI agent who is required to be involved.
- The MP and the FBI agent have a mysterious past history together.
- This past history seems to involve family and criminality.
- The reasons for the MP showing up are unknown.
- The MP has clues or information that helps the FBI solve cases.
- There is a darker plot involving FBI and other political leaders.
- The show is structured as an unfolding puzzle.
- The show indulges in a high level of brutality and violence.
- 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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.