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The Blacklist: “Pilot” Review

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Starring Megan Boone and James Spader, NBC produced drama, The Blacklist, gets off to a decidedly lacklustre start with “Pilot”, as a damning sense of “seen it all before” permeates its every scene. The Blacklistis a hackneyed, cliché ridden reiteration of a concept we’ve witnessed in various forms a thousand times over. Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington (Spader) is a perfunctory amalgamation of the likes of Keyser Soze, James Moriarty, and Hannibal Lecter (minus the propensity for cannibalism, it must be said). He’s an astute adversary, with an unrivalled acumen for criminality. Jon Bokenkamp has purloined traits from an assortment of villains and coalesced them into what is an inescapably unoriginal creation.

Spader’s turgid performance is disappointing for an actor of his calibre, but in his defence, he’s served a figurative sh*t sandwich for a script. His dialogue is riddled with the banal villain-speak customary to this sort of vapid programming (e.g. ‘You’re special’, ‘I’m going to make you famous, Lizzie’, etc.), not to mention his penchant for mockingly “mwa-ha-ha”-ing at every given opportunity. Reddington’s turpitude is tawdry, tedious, and thoroughly unconvincing, in stark contrast to the famous figures of villainy that he’s palely imitating.

Surpassing Spader’s prosaic turn for sheer inadequacy is Boone, as newly instated FBI profiler, Elizabeth Keen. Prompted to profile herself in one scene by Harold Cooper (Harry Lenix), she attributes narcissism and other likewise disparaging qualities to her personality. But Boone’s acting is so devoid of any depth or character whatsoever; so indistinct, that it’s nigh on impossible to pinpoint any of the defining traits she lays claim to in her actual performance.

On the plotting side of things, The Blacklist is most comparable in its derisory absurdity to The Following. The sequence entailing Ranko Zamani’s (Jamie Jackson) abduction of Beth (Delphina Bell) from the FBI transit wasn’t tempered with even a modicum of realism. It was an overblown action set-piece that, whilst enjoyable as a supremely choreographed visual spectacle, was brimming with illogicality.

Elizabeth and Beth’s unscathed conditions (save for a paltry cut to the former’s forehead), after being deliberately slammed into by a dump truck, and subsequently rolled over by that same vehicle, not to mention Elizabeth’s apparent immunity to the prolonged effects of tear gas, plus the convenient preservation of the main characters while numerous anonymous personnel fell by the wayside all around them, was a ludicrous succession of events, absent of even the remotest amount of believability. It’s far too commonplace for dramas such as this to opt for these arbitrary conveniences and complete dearth of veracity.

And it’s something that runs the full course of “Pilot”. When Reddington is first detained, he requests that Elizabeth be the one to interrogate him, citing that she is the only person he’s willing to commune with. The FBI’s characteristically “covert” response is to deploy a barrage of agents in SUVs, and even a military helicopter — all this, to retrieve a single person.

The Blacklist is shamelessly showy, nonsensical, and abstentious of being even slightly substantive. It’s desultory pacing, plus the caricatured and clichéd oppugnancy of Reddington, an utterly nondescript heroine, the glossy and glamourised semblance of its characters, and its trite reliance on contrived storytelling techniques, conjunctively results in a dismal opening instalment, completely lacking any form of substance, with very little prospect for the rest of the series.

★★☆☆☆

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