Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.
Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2009-2010 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on either a cut screened to us privately or a copy supplied by a third party NOT a screener provided by the network in question. All were received or screened prior to the networks' official mailings that went out in mid-June.]
HUMAN TARGET (FOX)
(Wednesdays at 9:00/8:00c starting in January; TRT: 42:17)
The network's description: "It takes a brave, selfless man to make himself a "human target" in order to save the lives of those in danger. Based on the popular DC Comics graphic novel, HUMAN TARGET is a full-throttle action drama centered on CHRISTOPHER CHANCE (Mark Valley, FRINGE), a unique private contractor/security guard hired to protect. Call him what you like, because for Chance, it's about one thing only: saving his clients' lives. When there is an unusual or imminent threat that can't be solved through "normal" means of protection, Chance is hired to completely integrate himself into his clients' lives to become the human target. If you're a corporate manager whose disgruntled employee has gone violently off the deep end, Chance is your new auditor. If you're the president of a bank who's been tipped off to a potential heist, Chance is your unassuming bank teller. During each job, Chance, assisted by his business partner WINSTON (Chi McBride, "Pushing Daisies") and hired gun GUERRERO (Jackie Earle Haley, "Watchmen"), puts himself directly in the line of fire as he races against time to save his client, while unraveling the truth behind the mission. With every new danger, Chance's dark history will also unravel. Does anyone know who Christopher Chance really is, or what secrets lay buried in his past? What would make a man willingly become a HUMAN TARGET?"
What did they leave out? It's the first pilot I can recall that used the studio's vanity cards (Warner Bros. Television, DC Comics) to open the show, a la a feature film. That and Danny Glover, yes, that Danny Glover, shows up in the final minutes to tease yet another mission.
The plot in a nutshell: We covered the script back in March, but here's the highlights: Christopher Chance ("Fringe's" Mark Valley) is the guy you go to when you have a target on your back. You see, Christopher, along with his partner Winston (Chi McBride, sadly given little to do here), runs a protection/investigation firm that specializes in high-end clients. Someone trying to kill you? He'll get between you and the assassin by hiding in plain sight as someone close to you. Such is the case in the teaser, in which a disgruntled employee (Mark Moses) has taken his company hostage in the hopes of getting revenge upon the boss who let him go. Unfortunately for him, said boss has retained Chance's services and the man discovers there's a big difference between making a threat and being able to follow through with it. A few punches and kicks - not to mention a boom - later, Chance's mission is accomplished. Just don't ask about the property damage.
The action then picks up as Winston interviews another prospective client, Stephanie Dobbs (Tricia Helfer), an engineer working on a multi-billion dollar bullet train. It seems on the eve of its maiden voyage, Stephanie's mechanic found eight ounces of plastic explosives strapped to the bottom of her stalled car. Someone wants her dead. But before Winston can turn her away, Chance - who's still recovering from the aforementioned explosion - pops in and decides to take her case, much to Winston's chagrin. And so Chance poses as Stephanie's interpreter during said voyage as the various suspects and potential assassins reveal themselves. Is it the company's overly helpful general counsel? Is it her boss that demanded she cut corners even if it compromised the train's safety? Or someone totally unexpected? Only Chance and his team, which includes Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley, stealing every scene he's in), a slightly reformed criminal now working for the angels, can find out.
What works: At face value, if you're just looking for things to get hit and blow up for an hour, you may find "Human Target" a hoot. Otherwise...
What doesn't: ...don't hope for much else. First and foremost, I was surprised by the complete lack of emotional attachment to Chance. The initial draft of the script we were shown featured flashbacks to Chance and his late wife, a loss which is slowing eating away at him and making him more and more reckless. These brief glimpses played out against his handling of Stephanie, who reminds him of her and in turn showed us the audience a little about what makes him tick. In the actual pilot, we're privy to none of this and instead left with few reasons to root and/or care for Chance other than he's the hero of a TV show and that's who we're supposed to root and/or care for. Not helping matters is that Chance is portrayed as an unbeatable machine, one who knows all the answers and is always one step ahead, while the villains are paper tigers who pose no actual threat. (And that's of course setting aside its logic defying plot, which you can relive in more detail here.)
Valley likewise plays Chance as decidedly stoic and emotionless, all despite dialogue and situations that seem ripe for having some fun (Chance: "What's the tab for all this?" Stephanie: "In all? About 80 billion." Chance: "Do I event want to know how much of that came from my taxes?" Stephanie: "About 62 billion." Chance: "Even I want to kill you a little bit right now."). In fact the only one who seems even remotely like they are enjoying themselves is Haley's Guerrero, whose wry comments and psychotic threats are missed the moment he leaves the screen. What really escapes me however is why this is based the DC Comics character at all? Other than the name and the idea that he's a bodyguard, there's nothing to tie this project to its comics incarnation. The Christopher Chance of the comics world uses surgery and other technologies to literally become the people he's trying to protect, a tactic which comes with the psychological weight of being somebody else on a regular basis. Here we have a pretty humdrum bodyguard show...
The bottom line: ...one I can't say I'm in any rush to see again.