'Blacklist' vs. 'Hostages': Fall TV face-off
September 24th, 2013
11:59 AM ET

'Blacklist' vs. 'Hostages': Fall TV face-off

On Monday, the fall TV season began in earnest.

CBS premiered two new shows - a comedy, "Mom," and a drama from Jerry Bruckheimer, "Hostages" - while NBC presented its James Spader-led pilot, "The Blacklist."

"Mom," a new Chuck Lorre sitcom starring Anna Faris as a recovering alcoholic and single mother living in Napa Valley, is so far looking pretty promising. (It's Anna Faris and Allison Janney, which is enough of a win for us.)

But the showdown between "Hostages" and "The Blacklist" is trickier.

"Hostages" stars Toni Collette as an in-demand Washington, D.C. surgeon named Ellen Sanders. When she's tapped to operate on the president, the good doctor finds herself in a crazy situation: a rogue FBI agent named Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott) gets wind of her impending surgery and assembles a team to hold Ellen, her husband (Tate Donovan) and their two teen kids hostage. Carlisle's mission is to convince Ellen to get her to "accidentally" kill the president during surgery, or he'll kill her family.

"Hostages" stands apart in the network TV realm because it's just 15 episodes versus the more traditional 22 to 24, but it's definitely on-theme with the politics-heavy programming that's become popular. In the eyes of CBS executives, that's probably a selling point - but perhaps not so much for audiences.

"The problem for 'Hostages' (beyond McDermott's habit of relying too heavily on the 'whisper shout' line delivery that has become his trademark) is that viewers have been burned by this kind of ongoing mystery once too often," said USA Today.

Yet if the production team is clever, they might be able to spin the suspense of the pilot episode into intriguing TV, argues the Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman, who admitted that he'll be watching for at least a few more episodes. "It’s a pretty great first hour, and if they can keep up the suspense before changing direction, it might be a feat worth watching every week."

By contrast, "The Blacklist" is another hour-long drama that stars Spader as a charismatic but traitorous former government agent - and one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives - named Raymond "Red" Reddington. At the start of the premiere, Red turns himself in to the authorities with the offer of helping them catch a terrorist. His one condition? That he speaks solely to newcomer FBI agent Liz Keen (Megan Boone).

If you're thinking that sounds heavily reminiscent of "The Silence of the Lambs," that's because it is - but with Spader as its star, "The Blacklist" is able to pull ahead.

"'The Blacklist' has Spader run every page of the Wicked Genius Playbook: luxuriating in a five-star hotel room, sneering at his handlers while cuffed to a chair, savoring a fine glass of red wine with an epicurean reverie," says Time magazine's James Poniewozik. "He’s a ham, but an effective one, which is to say that he lets the audience enjoy his own sheer enjoyment of playing the outsize role ... But to the extent that Reddington is compelling, it’s because Spader is doing all the work. ... The show’s success moving ahead is going to depend on how interesting Reddington and Keen’s back-stories become."

Looking at them side-by-side, the Huffington Post's Maureen Ryan agrees that "Hostages" is one Spader short of a solid show.

"Both pilots accomplish what they set out to do, and while 'Hostages' is marginally more compelling, at least 'Blacklist' arrives with a tasty side of ham," she says.

In this face-off, we're calling it a draw. Did you catch the premieres? What did you think?

Filed under: Fall TV • television

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