Red Reddington is a fixer for criminals – he knows everyone and everything and has just turned himself into the FBI. But he’ll only talk to Agent Elizabeth Keen, who is about to have a very interesting first day at work.
This was one of the most intriguing trailers and proposals of the upfronts and I’m very happy to see that the pilot not only lived up to the promise of the trailer, but actually exceeded it.
What isn’t really surprising is that James Spader is terrific. He always manages to bring something unexpected to characters and Red is no different. The character/actor is never anything other than completely in control of the situation, even when handcuffed in a cage. What could have turned into a comedy super-villain in lesser hands becomes an intriguing multi-faceted character from the very first scene when he shows a tiny sliver of nervousness at walking into the hands of the police. His dry delivery manages to both lighten the tone and make you see the truth of a situation all at the same.
What was slightly more surprising is that relative unknown Megan Boone is every bit his equal. She gets plenty to do in the pilot and nails quiet and loud emotional moments, but also convincingly puts on the brave and stern FBI face when needed. I actually genuinely liked her character.
The trailer I linked to above is not the main one that NBC put out, which I avoided because it gave away pretty much the whole pilot in 4 minutes. Half of the joy of the show was being unaware of the zigs and zags that were coming. It’s a bit like a roller-coaster – nothing is truly surprising, you know there are twists and turns coming, but the first ride is always the best. I was really impressed at the way a number of questions are introduced, but it didn’t feel manipulative, “we can string you along forever because you have to know the answer to these mysteries.” It all felt quite organic.
It’s pretty early going, but being objective (and trying to look past my Joss Whedon obsession) this is going to take some beating as my favourite pilot of the year. It did everything it needed to do – introduced interesting characters, gave a good indication of what we can expect week-to-week and got me hooked on some interesting larger mysteries to run over the season(s), all while having some fun and action along the way. Fingers crossed it keeps it up.
The Blacklist airs on Sky Living on Friday nights and is available on Sky Go. It has been picked up for a full first season.