Heather Watches The Blacklist

The Blacklist - Season Pilot

It was an unusual day this Saturday in that I had nothing at all to do; most of my weekends are totally booked up and the few weekends that I don’t have much going on are the result of a concerted effort to give myself a break. That wasn’t the case this last Saturday; I had kept my calendar open, but it was in the hopes of having plans to do something to celebrate my birthday. I was going to be out of town on my actual birthday (Sunday)  so I wanted to make sure to have some free time in case anyone wanted to do something, since the next free weekend on my calendar may very well be in December. Sadly, despite many inquiries as to when I might be around, I wound up with an empty calendar. An interview that I had recently caught with James Spader on The Tonight Show had put his television show The Blacklist on my radar and this seemed as good a time as any to give the show a try – especially since the entire first season was currently streaming on Netflix. The buzz around The Blacklist has generally been pretty good and with the second season debuting tonight the chatter around the show has only begun to intensify. So I curled up on the couch and started working my way through the first season, prepared to be dazzled.

I got through six episodes on Saturday and I can honestly say I have no idea what all the fuss is about. Overall, I thought that The Blacklist was pretty mediocre. I’m not sure if this show did so well simply because last season was a pretty abysmal fall TV class, but I didn’t see much here that elevates the show above your run of the mill procedurals. I am fully aware that I am not in step with the masses on this count – shows like the CSI franchises and Criminal Minds are ridiculously popular, but I find them cursory and boring. I think I was expecting more from The Blacklist than just the criminal of the week.

The basic premise of The Blacklist surrounds the decision of a notorious former government agent turned criminal, Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader), to turn himself to the FBI. A wanted fugitive, Reddington has an intriguing offer to make them – he will help them bring down some of the most dangerous criminals and terrorists in the world, most of whom are unknown to the FBI. In exchange, Reddington wants two things: immunity and to only work with brand new FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). There is a connection between Red and Keen that only he is aware of; Red also sheds light on the fact that Keen’s husband (Ryan Eggold) may not be who he says he is.

The obvious bright spot on The Blacklist should come as no surprise – its star, James Spader, is just a force of nature. Whenever he is on the screen, things instantly get 100 times more interesting. The man has such charm and magnetism that you can’t take your eyes off him. He has that perfect mix of smarm and humor and his delivery of even the most routine line instantly elevates it. Spader is always solid and his presence on The Blacklist was admittedly the only reason that I was even mildly interested in tuning in. I’ve enjoyed him in both movies and on the small screen; Boston Legal was not a perfect show, but he and William Shatner were just so good together that whatever issues I had with the series were obscured. Spader has tremendous range; he can be terrifying one moment and then drop some spot on deadpan humor the next. The man can really do it all and The Blacklist is no different. I would have been perfectly content if they had done a bottle episode where Spader’s character was trying on hats. He can make anything compelling.

Unfortunately, the other lead of The Blacklist – Megan Boone – has all the charisma of a wet blanket. She’s just not good, a fact that would be pretty obvious regardless but is put into laser focus when she’s on screen with Spader. He can act circles around her without even trying so it’s painful to see scenes where he is the only person keeping things afloat while Boone stares and blinks a lot. The idea that she is supposed to be a rookie can account for some of the actress’ flaws, but not all of them. If anything, in the six episodes that I watched her acting only seemed to get worse, not better. My best guess is that NBC spent so much money locking down Spader to star in the series that they had to cut the budget elsewhere and get less experienced and seasoned actors to support him. Unfortunately, that decision really shows in the final product. There is a discernible drop in quality whenever Spader is not in a scene. I’m sure that they think they are telling an exciting story, but if Spader is absent I find myself wondering when he’ll turn up again (and what he’ll be wearing) rather than paying any sort of attention to the show. It doesn’t help matters that the FBI agents are generally depicted as not being all that great at their jobs; I get that the vibe that they are going for is that Spader is the smartest guy in the room, which they should be able to depict without dumbing down everyone else on the show. I feel like the entire storyline of the spouse of law enforcement actually having ties to bad guys has been done before on other shows/movies and unless executed really well, it doesn’t particularly reflect well on the characters that they didn’t suss out that something was amiss on their own.

I’m not far enough into the series to definitively say whether things improve – it sometimes takes a while for a show to find its footing – but the writing and plotting on the show are not particularly subtle. The idea that Red and Keen may have a biological connection has been present since the very first episode and is something that they have not been deft in hinting at throughout the other episodes. This is problematic for two reasons: either they are connected and these hints that they are dropping are not all that tough to deifier or they are trying way too hard to make us think that’s what is going on, only to misdirect at a later date. So either the big reveal – whenever that comes – is not going to be at all surprising or is going to feel like a major cheat because they have been putting too much energy into the redirect. I don’t mind trying to divert attention or mislead the audience, but it has to be done well. To date, that simply hasn’t been the case with The Blacklist. Instead of delicate storytelling, The Blacklist plods along with the grace of an elephant.

It is a true testament to James Spader that I’ve committed myself to finishing out the first season; I’m desperately hoping that the show finds it stride in the near future and becomes a better show – not only for my sake but for his. He’s so enjoyable that I’m willing to stick out the remaining 16 episodes that I have left; it’s worth a few delightful moments with Spader to ignore the rest of the show that surrounds him. I’m willing to bet that he’s the only reason that people are still excited about this show. There are enough procedurals to choose from that without his magnetism I don’t know that there would be much to distinguish The Blacklist from other programs.

I sincerely hope that The Blacklist proves me wrong and blossoms into a better acted and executed show, but that may simply not be in the cards. The show is doing very well in the ratings and has been a very big hit for NBC, so there is really no incentive to fix whatever is broken. Maybe this is a show that is simply not for me and I move on. I do think it only fair to give the show a full 22-episode run to convince me one way or another exactly what kind of show this is going to be. But unless there is some sort of course change on the horizon – or Boone starts taking some acting lessons – this may be a one and done series for me. I’ll have to feed my love of Spader by watching old episodes of Boston Legal or re-watching Secretary for the millionth time.

The second season of The Blacklist debuts tonight at 10 pm (ET) on NBC. The first season is available for streaming on Netflix.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Back to School edition

In this part of country today is the first day of school, which has little direct impact on my except that I had to avoid school buses during my morning commute and that my Facebook feed is filled with pictures of my friends’ offspring heading off to their institutions of learning. It’s still weird to me to not have a first day of school anymore; when you are a student and teacher continuously from the age of 4 to 32, you get used to such things. I do miss back to school shopping. I may have to buy myself some highlighters and folders just for old time’s sake. Best of luck to all the kiddos and teachers out there for a productive and educational school year and congratulations to all the parents in weathering another summer (and a special shout out to those of you who now have all your children in school and no longer have to pay for day care – the nightmare is over!).

In honor of the first day of school, allow me to educate you on all the pop culture stories that you might have missed while you were looking for the school prescribed type of scissors or haggling over first day of school outfits. Kick back and enjoy the beginning of Fall with your biweekly pop culture roundup:

  • Someone at HBO has been listening to me – next season of True Blood will be the series’ last. They are proving to be smarter than the books.
  • The new cast of Dancing with the Stars was revealed. I knew it was only a matter of time until Snookie turned up, though I wouldn’t have predicted Bill Nye the Science Guy,

 

  • Official Comedy looks at what would happen if Mark Wahlberg got his wish and became Iron Man:

 

  • Clint Eastwood and his wife have separated (I called this when she got her own reality show).
  • This dude made a homemade version of KITT from Knight Rider:

 

  • Here’s a photo of Peter Dinklage hula-hooping at a gay bar in Canada. If this doesn’t make you smile, you have no heart:

dinklage-hula

He was joined by his Game of Throne’s sister Lena Headey. Say what you will about the Lannisters – these people know how to have a good time.

  • This parody site offers suggestions for Robin Thicke for “what rhymes with hug me.”
  • This weekend we had a debate about what kind of tattoos we would get (neither of us got tatted up in college with all our friends). I’ve considered a lot of options, but somehow a Minion tattoo never crossed my mind.
  • Michelle Williams (the actress, not the Destiny’s Child singer) will make her Broadway debut in Cabaret. In other news, someone needs to get me tickets to Cabaret.
  • Aaron Paul continues his general tour of awesomeness with this napkin that he left for a server that he found out was a Breaking Bad fan:

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  • Watch a trailer for the 4th season of Downton Abbey:

 

  • Also on Thursday, Fiona Apple stormed off stage. Seriously – was there a full moon?
  • David Schwimmer angered his neighbors by tearing down a townhouse in NYC that was one year away from receiving landmark status. Their passive aggressive response is outstanding:
Did anyone think he was?

Did anyone think he was?

  • Jay Pharoah does a fantastic Kanye impersonation in his parody of West’s “I Am A God” (NSFW):

 

  • This is ONLY A RUMOR, but Benedict Cumberbatch may join the cast of the new Star Wars film.
  • The director of the Academy Award winning animated short Paperman has left Disney. Best of luck to him in his future endeavors – I loved his film.
  • Internet sensations Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub met for the first time at the Internet Cat Festival in Minneapolis. Yeah – you read that last part correctly.
  • The role of Daario Naharis on Game of Thrones has been recast. Because it isn’t hard enough already to keep all those characters straight when they are played continuously by the same actor.
  • Speaking of parent/child switcheroos, this tweet made me literally laugh out loud:

funnytweeter.com

 

  • This guy definitely sounds like a legit doctor – a dentist who bought John Lennon’s molar at an auction wants to use it to clone the Beatle. Yup – that’s not at all creepy.
  • Damn you to hell, Chase Utley. I have been perfectly content to hate you and your stupid hair since 2009 and then you had to go and do something relatively awesome like answer Mac’s fan letter from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

 

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  • Kyle Chandler isn’t particularly interested in a Friday Night Lights movie (based on the TV show, obviously, since there already is a Friday Night Lights movie in existence). I still need to get around to watching season 5.
  • Muhammad Ali and Liberace once performed together. No, seriously:

 

  • I love this video of a guy dressed up as Spiderman, schooling people on the basketball court:

That was twice as entertaining as The Amazing Spiderman.

  • Further proof that Charlie Hunnam will do just fine in the Fifty Shades of Grey lead – he already basically played the other lead role on Queer as Folk.
  • According to Entertainment Weekly the greatest boy band of all time is……The Backstreet Boys.
  • Someone figured out how to play “Get Lucky” on Mario Paint:

 

  • Simon Pegg and Nick Frost actually do a decent cover of the song as well:

 

As always, we end with the mashups and shupercuts

  • A supercut of near kisses in movies:

 

  • People on The Newsroom sure like to shout:

 

  • Every time Leonardo DiCaprio says “old sport” in The Great Gatsby:

 

  • The new season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia starts tonight on FXX. Watch clips from the show re-cut as a trailer for a psychological thriller:

 

  • Kill Him – the supercut:

 

  •  I was forced to watch a lot of Thomas the Tank Engine while babysitting a dreadful little boy while I was in grad school, so I took particular joy in this mash-up:

 

  • And finally, a fan already cut together a trailer for Man of Steel 2, adding the rumored Brian Cranston as Lex Luthor for good measure: