Thursday, May 31, 2007

Kidnapped: A look back

One of the requests made during the What Do You Want? thread was a second look at some shows that dropped off my radar as the season went along. I'll try to catch up on some of "Ugly Betty," "Brothers & Sisters" and the like when I can, but thanks to the joy of Netflix, I was able to finish up with "Kidnapped" (which was too much of a pain in the ass to follow on NBC's website), and I really liked what I saw -- while at the same time feeling totally satisfied with the show's cancellation.

Spoiler-y thoughts to follow, though I'll save the really spoiler-y stuff for the very end, so if you haven't watched the remaining episodes but are still thinking about it, I can give you adequate warning before it's too late to turn back.

Of all the complicated serial mystery dramas that tanked this fall, "Kidnapped" was the one I missed the most. ("The Nine" had a better pilot but fell apart almost immediately.) Tremendous cast (especially if you add in recurring players like Doug Hutchison, Anthony Rapp, James Urbaniak and Robert John Burke, or even one-shot guest stars like Tom Noonan), great look and use of New York locations, fairly snappy dialogue (even if, as Fienberg likes to say, Jason Smilovic is, at best, Mamet-Lite), solid action set pieces (including several that had me believing Madchen Amick could be a bad-ass assassin) and, best of all, a format designed to bring closure at the end of a season. Had the show continued, we would've moved on to a new case, with Jeremy Sisto, Delroy Lindo and Carmen Ejogo sticking around and everyone else being replaced. That spared Smilovic and the other writers the hassle of contriving a reason to keep Dana Delany and Timothy Hutton around, and the ability to treat the format as a series of self-contained mysteries instead of one sprawling narrative spared it a lot of the "How do we keep this going?" convolutions that helped sink the likes of "Vanished."

At the same time, I'm glad the show got cut down to only 13 episodes -- or, rather, that NBC didn't order a back nine, while giving Smilovic enough warning that he could write a conclusion -- as I don't think there was 22 episodes worth of story here. There are several episodes in the middle, obviously written before the "wrap it up" marching orders, that are clearly just there as time-fillers, notably an episode where Sisto holds Amick captive while a mystery sniper threatens to kill Lindo's otherwise-inconsequential adult daughter. And you can practically time stamp the moment when Smilovic realized the end was near, as the plot moves into warp speed to get all the players in place for the planned climax in Mexico, followed by a final episode in which the mastermind behind the kidnapping has to give longer-than-usual Fallacy of the Talking Killer speeches to explain exactly how and why all of this happened. Had everyone known from the jump that this would be 13 episodes and out, I imagine the pacing would have been vastly better and we would have been left with a really tight little miniseries thriller.

Still, even with the start-and-stop nature of the storytelling, I was extremely satisfied by how things shook out, which I'll get into in more explicit detail in the next paragraph (so start preparing to bail, unspoiled folk). In a perfect world, "Kidnapped" would have been exhibit A for why American network television could stand to adopt the British model, where a show runs for a limited amount of episodes, finishes its story, then immediately gives way to something else, and only returns if the creators have something more to say. At the very least, it's more evidence that the 13-episode model is a huge part of why your average cable drama is better than your average network drama. When you're only doing 13 instead of 22, especially on a show with serial elements, you're not stuck with that inevitable drag in the middle of the season when nothing interesting can happen because the finale's too far away, and you can spend more time making each episode as good as it can be. With "Kidnapped," nobody showed up for even the first episode; maybe if people had been promised closure in only 13 episodes, that might have been different, or maybe the original "Why should I want to watch them stretch out a story Without a Trace could do in an hour?" complaint would have still applied, I don't know. All I know is that, creatively, a lot of shows would be better at this length.

Some specific spoilers to follow, bullet point-style...
  • By far the highlight of the post-NBC episodes was Mykelti Williamson's work as Virgil the bodyguard. Outside of the thrilling shootout in the pilot, he spent most of the network run either absent or lying in a hospital bed, but once you get to the unaired episodes, he's a violent forcre of nature, giving up all traces of humanity in an attempt to save the life of his abducted charge. It's a rip on the Denzel character from "Man on Fire," but as played by Williamson -- an actor at his best when you strip his amount of dialogue to the bone -- it's a good rip. The moment when Virgil and Leopold finally reunite on that Mexican beach was the series' emotional peak, and because there was no need to keep Virgil around for future stories (even before cancellation), the writers were able to treat his injuries with gravity; he basically holds his body together through sheer willpower until he completes his mission, then lets go and dies.
  • Some nice stuff from Hutton, who made me believe he could be an ex-thug, when he usually comes across as somewhat effete. For that matter, Sisto's another guy who never screamed action hero before but did a convincing Jack Bauer impression here, particularly during the Tom Noonan episode. And speaking of which...
  • The episode where Noonan has Sisto strapped to a chair for some torture and, eventually, execution, was another highlight. When you bring in The Tooth Fairy, you're not messing around. And if I'm not blurring some of the episodes together, this was also the one where we really got into Knapp's backstory as a kid who escaped from the religious cult his mother had joined by climbing barefoot down a rocky mountain. A very creepy, compelling monologue that was.
  • As I alluded to above, the revelation that Lindo's buddy Linus Roache was the bad guy required a lot of finessing at the end, not because it contradicted anything that came before, but just because there had barely been any time to drop any hints.

So, did anybody else stick with it to the end? And would you have wanted to watch a second season with Sisto chasing after Anthony Rapp, or did you feel one season was enough for this character and format?

11 comments:

Tom Coombe said...

Great article. "I loved the line When you bring in The Tooth Fairy, you're not messing around."

I would have liked to see a second season of KIDNAPPED, but it's hard to complain when the first season was so well done. One thing I really liked was the way Knapp and the FBI worked together. A lesser show would have subjected us to endless territorial disputes.

apocalipstick said...

This is the show I wish had survived. It was tight, modest (I mean that as a compliment; the show cared about its genre origins and conventions), and well-paced. Delroy Lindo rules and I second your appraisal of Hutton. Usually, Jeremy Sisto makes me throw in my mouth, but I thought he was very good here and the relationship between Knapp and King was refreshing. The mutual respect even as they disagreed was so much better than the phony noir that most shows peddle.

I'll have to check out the DVDs.

Jon Delfin said...

I stuck, and managed to get over my loathing of TV-on-the-laptop as a result. Now I'm so well-adjusted, I even watched the "Six Degrees" burn-off. (It was no "Kidnapped." Kudos for filming locally, though.)

Janna said...

I really enjoyed Kidnapped when it was on the air. I didn't end up finishing the season so I am glad you wrote this post! I was saying the same thing about calling it a miniseries when I was watching it. I feel like tv has been trying to stretch shows that would be really successful if billed as a "one season only" show. Instead of empty promises, get all the action in a few great episodes.

jimmo said...

thanks for the update. This was one I watched from the beginning, and have wondered about since. I don't really use the computer for TV watching, so I had no idea one could still catch up on it.

Even after all this time, I'm more interested in Kidnapped's resolution than the "Jericho's" and "Heroes" of the world, when I never felt compelled to go back after too-long hiatus' (hiati?).

Thanks Alan for the look back.

KidNoOneLikes said...

Here in the UK, Channel 4 showed all the episodes over 4 weeks and I loved it. Jeremy Sisto was really good in it. I was dissapointed to hear that it got cancelled.

theTVaddict said...

Great article Alan. As a disappointed KIDNAPPED fan (when it was cancelled), I had my complete series on pre-order from Amazon.

I found the series incredibly satisfying and well done. Kudos to NBC for giving KIDNAPPED enough lead time to wrap up a proper ending. It was worth the wait.

Lisa said...

I watched the rest of the episodes on dvd from Netflix. Kidnapped was really a terrific show and I would have loved to have seen a second season with Lindo and Sisto working together. The unaired episodes were really quite good - the story tightened up and had lots of twists. Too bad that this was cancelled so quickly because it rivals Without a Trace in quality and certainly bypasses many of the other network shows.

Ellen Gray said...

As I think I probably already told you, I watched the remaining episodes on NBC.com months ago.

Thought it ended in a more satisfying way than Vanished -- which just made me feel ripped off, and glad I could theoretically count the time I'd spent with it as work -- I thought the change in pacing halfway through made it harder to follow. Wouldn't have minded if it had been that way all along perhaps, but the Linus Roache thing really felt contrived -- except that I had thought all along that they were wasting the guy. So I should've expected something more involving him.

Which I guess is why I'm expecting more from his character in Canterbury's Law than I'm seeing in the pilot.

Nettie said...

I'm also delighted, Alan, that you chose to review this series. I'd been alerted by Entertainment Weekly, got it from Netflix, then bought the dvd and watched it again. It's even good when you know all the answers. Such a relief to see Jeremy Sisto in a role different from the one he had on Six Feet Under. This good guy needs to be chasing bad guys. I hope he gets picked up soon for something new.

Gus said...

My wife and I enjoyed it when it was on NBC, and just caught up on DVD. She suggested that it might have been better as Sisto and Lindo catching kidnappers every week, and despite generally preferring serials to stand-alones, I think I'm inclined to agree. Their chemistry and Mykelti Williamson bad-assing about were the best things about the show.