Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Human Target, "Embassy Row": Every girl crazy for a sharp-dressed Chance

A quick review of last night's "Human Target" coming up just as soon as I change clothes right before I leave for an event...

Last week's "Rewind" was the fourth episode produced, but Fox pushed it up, no doubt because they felt it was a stronger episode than "Embassy Row." This happens a lot with new shows, and with a fairly episodic series like "Human Target" it's less of a big deal than when it happens to something like "Firefly" (which, coincidentally, co-starred tonight's guest star, Sean Maher). And having watched "Embassy Row," I understand Fox's reluctance to put it out front and center.

Three episodes into the series (let alone two, had we not had the shuffle) feels way too early to be doing an episode that casually tosses the premise aside. I'm not saying that "Human Target" shouldn't be allowed to do episodes not built around Chance playing bodyguard(*) - frankly, it would get dull if they couldn't do a change-of-pace show now and then - but when you do it this soon, it sends a message that you don't have a lot of confidence in the core concept. And given that they already abandoned so much else from the comic book character, I'm starting to worry that the creative team doesn't know what it wants to do beyond "Let's do an action show with Mark Valley!"

(*) Yes, in the end, Chance and company wound up saving Maher's life (and Chance's own), but the primary focus here was on revenge, not protection.

And while there are certainly worse ways to spend an hour than watching Valley beat people up while Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley get on each other's nerves, I tend to like my shows to have a more clear sense of identity than that - even if they're telling stories about a man with dozens upon hundreds of identities himself.

There were some decent action beats, and Valley had good chemistry with guest star Emmanuelle Vaugier, but overall "Embassy Row" felt pretty disposable. We'll see if it was just a blip or a sign of further trouble ahead, but we're in the managing expectations period for a new show. And after mostly liking the first two episodes, I don't want to start thinking of "Human Target" than more than it's capable of (or interested in) being.

What did everybody else think?


Dan said...

Alan, I definitely agree with your confusion over why the writers would deviate from the formula so early. This felt like an episode that you should only air once your audience is familiar with the characters and their tendencies, putting it no earlier than the second half of the first season. For example, the final conversation between Chi McBride and Mark Valley would probably have resonated much more with me had I been more familiar with Chance's seemingly superhuman ability to never leave a trace of himself behind, whether it be DNA, fingerprints, hair, whatever. But in the third (second) episode, the conversation just seemed a bit trite and forced.

I'll also be happy if the writers can find ways to have Chance escape from scenes without requiring him to jump into collisions that would kill most people. I have no problem suspending disbelief for action movies/shows, but between the "parachute" onto gravel in the pilot and the motorcycle crash in last night's ep, it just seems like the writers are a bit lazy on this show.

I like the show, but I'm officially worried.

Anonymous said...

For some reason, the deviation from the formula didn't bother me and I continue to mostly enjoy watching these characters get in and out of scrapes in implausible ways. It may just be an expectations game, though. This show was presented (as far as I can tell) as, basically, an old school action show, and so long as it gives me something akin to the enjoyment a show like the A Team gave me (a consistent B-type of grade, like Psych), I'm happy.

By the way, one thing that confuses me is that when a show like Modern Family (don't worry, I'm not an MF evangelist) structures a show in a similar manner several episodes in a row, you'll get many critics fretting that the show is too formulaic and lacks creative growth, but this show tweaks its structure and that's a problem for some (though not necessarily the same) critics, as well. My question, then, is whether there is an accepted arc for how a new show should establish and play with its formula in the first season?

Anonymous said...

It definitely felt too early. I enjoyed it and it was fun to watch and it's going to take a lot to get me to completely tune out of a show with these three stars, but it's going to have to actually grow for me to want to watch in real time rather than just bank it in the DVR for when nothing else is on. I like episodes like this, but it just wasn't time for it. I *do* appreciate that they wanted to set up a possibly friendly outsider, but it seems like that introduction and the revenge story could have been separate from one another.

Still...that fight between Valley and Vaugier was a lot of fun. And as long as I walk into it like I'm walking into a summer blockbuster popcorn movie then I'm okay with the suspension of disbelief required to accept that Chance is still alive after the many crashes and explosions we've seen him involved in just three episodes into the series, much less the many that no doubt came before we even met him. There just needs to be some actual storytelling, appropriate backstory and logical character development for me to care about anything more than the Mark Valley eye candy and the banter between all three guys.

DeeTV said...

I really wish Chance didn't purposely leave his prints. It's got that "will they/won't they" feeling written all over it. I think a romantic link between the Chance and the female agent is going to be distracting, annoying and unnecessary.

Other than that, I'm enjoying the show so far. The 3 leads are working well together.

On another note, does Mark Valley remind anyone else of a pumped up Thomas Jane? I can't look at Valley w/o thinking of "Hung".

Marc said...

I bailed after last week. Its a shame to see Chi McBride in a routine role. He deserves better especially after his last two TV roles. Love to see him in something that uses all his talent - comedic or dramatic.

Have always liked Valley and while he's goodlooking and charming he doesnt ooze that warmth that makes me want to check in every week. Nathan Fillion has all that and thankfully on CASTLE his humor, look, his charm and acting ability are all on display. Dont know if you watch that Alan but that show has turned into a real treat vevery week.

JimBriggs said...

This was the first ep I saw, and after hearing and reading about the premise of the show I was surprised to see it was already off-formula, but I was actually ok with it. It hooked me enough so I'll come back again.

Dan - "I'll also be happy if the writers can find ways to have Chance escape from scenes without requiring him to jump into collisions that would kill most people." There's a certain level of belief you have to suspend in order to watch action/adventure shows without yelling at the screen because of the implausibility of some scenes, but I had a hard time swallowing Chance's repeated escapes while handcuffed to the girl. C'mon! Any one of the them should have ripped their arms out of their sockets!

Alan Sepinwall said...

one thing that confuses me is that when a show like Modern Family (don't worry, I'm not an MF evangelist) structures a show in a similar manner several episodes in a row, you'll get many critics fretting that the show is too formulaic and lacks creative growth, but this show tweaks its structure and that's a problem for some (though not necessarily the same) critics, as well. My question, then, is whether there is an accepted arc for how a new show should establish and play with its formula in the first season?

There's a difference between structure and premise. Modern Family is a show about these three families, both apart and together, and all the episodes so far have been on that subject. I've said that I find the episodes where the families interact on some level more engaging than the ones where they're all separate, but that's a matter of execution and degree, not about asking for a different show than what's been offered.

This, on the other hand, is a case of putting the whole premise - Christopher Chance, world's greatest bodyguard - aside for an hour. Nothing wrong with doing that periodically down the line, but episode three (or two) is much too early, and it sends the message that the producers and/or the network don't have a lot of confidence in the premise and are just trying to come up with exciting things for Valley to do.

Anonymous said...

I actually enjoyed this episode way more than the first two. Now I plan on watching next week, whereas last week I was somewhat ambivalent about whether or not I was going to keep watching.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Alan, that makes sense. Damn, now I'm concerned, too.

W. Blake Gray said...

Alan: It's an interesting debate. I watched "Reaper" to the end, and thought season 2 was very strong (it turned into "Buffy," in essence), but they lost their audience midway through season 1 when they did several shows in a row that were nearly exactly the same.

Maybe something for a larger column?

Alan Sepinwall said...

But I'm not saying they had to do the exact same show every week. There are so many variations on the kinds of people Chance could protect, the locations, the opponents, etc., etc., etc.

Reaper's problem wasn't that they stuck to the premise for too long. It was that they kept repeating the same specific beats from the pilot, over and over again, until everybody got bored.

BigTed said...

I thought the premise of this episode was "How do we add a hot woman as a recurring character?" And the only way was to make her some sort of law-enforcement agent-slash-spy. (Although it seems a little strange to have an FBI agent treading what seems like CIA territory on "Chuck" and other shows -- especially given her hand-to-hand combat training, a class that Mulder and Scully must have missed somewhere.)

GabbyD said...

as for the premise, i dont think it was abandoned.

the premise is a man takes on another's identity to do something related to defeating a bad guy. usually its a bodyguard flushing out an assasin, and this time its to flush out a spy.

not that different.

also, i found it really unbelievable that they managed to climb over the wall without them getting shot. the body guards must have been 10 to 15 feet from the wall! haha... storm trooper syndrome anyone?

Unknown said...

BigTed, technically the FBI is responsible for counter-espionage operations and the CIA isn't supposed to do anything domestically, so the whole Chuck setup would be illegal ... but it's a TV show not a documentary.

Anonymous said...

We dropped the show after the first two episodes. It's not bad, but something just didn't click with us. All three stars are engaging enough, but the stories just weren't interesting enough to get to come back. I may check it out if it's online.

BigTed said...


But a foreign embassy doesn't count as domestic, does it? (As long as I'm watching all these spy shows, I may as well learn something.)

Anonymous said...

Is anyone else amused that all the aired eps so far have had guest stars who have also been on BSG? (in this ep the Russian head of security was one of the Marines -- not a lead role like Tricia Helfer, Donnelly Rhodes, or Alessandro Juliani, but a connection nonetheless.)

(oh, and my word verification is "exids," also evoking a BSG ep. Ha!)

Allison DeWitt said...

It was nice as eye candy and it fulfilled a Buffyesque need - seeing a woman kick bad man's ass - but there wasn't much there. Where's the character development particularly for the supporting cast?

Anonymous said...

I liked the episode and wasn't bothered that it strayed from any particular formula or premise of the show. I didn't like that he left the fingerprints but joked with my husband as to the reason why based on what happened in the previous episode. Now I find that the previous episode was pushed forward. A good move I think because the placement seemed ok to me and I loved the other episode and only liked this one.

Kate said...

I've given the show two chances and that's it. Yawn.

Guys doing guy things. I know there is a market for it, just as there is a market for Real Housewives, but I'm not it. It's like a series of Rambo movies. NCIS:LA is bad enough with 5 male agents to one female but this show doesn't even try to have a female presence except in the occasional guest cast.

As I watched the hostage scenes, all I was thinking about was how much better and more intelligently Flashpoint does that.

I'm sticking with Chuck for my shot of fantasy adventure and Castle for fun.

Anonymous said...

The pompous music is driving me batty.

Unknown said...

I have two questions for you Alan if you get to see this.

On the second episode I noted the new show intro (following the naturally non existent one in the pilot) and decided I rather liked it, but it occurred to me that it was quite long a la the old days of intros and I sat and thought "I can only think of Chuck" as another current show that has a similarly lengthy intro sequence that I watch.

Then damn me (and I hadn't known) I see that McG is the exec producer here too. So I was sitting wondering is the one a direct result of the other?

The second question is one that I have been meaning to ask for so long I've lost count, but this is the latest show (it was in the second episode actually) to be an example of it, so I will ask it here.

At some time in nearly every show on TV today we see someone using a laptop. Here it was Chi's Winston character in the second episode. The laptop had something covering the logo on the outside front panel facing the camera. In most instances on most shows that is the case. Some are well done and quite discreet, others are atrociously bad and annoyingly eye catching.

Then in shows like Chuck we see Dell laptops used with no attempt to cover the logo at all, and in House there are Apple MacBooks on full display all the time.

Obviously there is some licensing issue about the logos, but I cant understand if it's because a show isnt financially placed to pay for the use of the logo that they cover it, or if they aren't prepared to do product placement for no money (ie the show isnt recognised as being worth anything and the computer company won't stump up anything).

Both reasons are totally different and neither seem to make much sense. If I were a Dell or Apple etc I'd have my logo on display every chance I got.

Or conversely if I were a show I'd be happy to display them without making my show look crap by covering the damn things up, even if I wasn't making any extra money in the process.

Do you know what it's all about and why some shows cover these logos and others don't?