Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Television Tuesdays: Human Target

I'm a big fan of the FOX action show, Human Target, so I was delighted when it was renewed for a second season. It sports one reformed assassin, one not so reformed, and a bitter former cop. Brought to life by Mark Valley, Chi McBride, and Jackie Earle Haley, from the start, this was a great, fun, exciting way to spend an hour every Wednesday night. Ever since the great Keen Eddie, I've been waiting for Mark Valley to get another chance at his own show and this immediately seemed to the perfect fit.

Imagine how I feel now to have to admit my disappointment with this new season.

The premise is this: reformed assassin Christopher Chance takes the impossible jobs protecting/helping people who are on their last hope for survival. If it sounds a bit like the intro to The A Team television show – "If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them..." – that's no mistake. Human Target invokes the very best of that era with strong characters and relationships – and ample chances to blow stuff up. Assisting our hero in his weekly endeavors at redemption is the former cop Winston (Chi McBride, late of Pushing Daisies, which I adored but I hear tell that he felt differently) and the morally ambivalent but fiercely loyal Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley), who you do not want to ever meet in a dark alley. Week to week, they take cases, they save lives, they banter, all while pieces of their respective pasts are slowly, tantalizingly, revealed.

In the season one finale, the origins of Christopher Chance finally came out. "It's the name that strikes fear into a man." If you're having Dread Pirate Roberts déjà vu, you're not alone. In riveting flashback, no less than the iconic Lee Majors explained how Christopher Chance was a name passed down from one reformed human weapon to another. That finale was a masterpiece of infodump done right including how our Christopher Chance assumed the mantle of that name. It ended with Winston kidnapped by really bad guys, and Chance having to team up with his former mentor (Armand Assante, gleefully chewing every piece of furniture in sight) in order to rescue his friend from certain death.

Ooh baby.

Notorious for its lack of faith in new shows, FOX dumped the highly touted Lone Star after only 2 episodes and brought the season debut of Human Weapon forward from January to fill its spot. Cool, thought I. Less wait time before I can finally see the conclusion of that great cliffhanger.

Alas, whilst on hiatus (no, I don't know why I'm suddenly talking like a Victorian suffragette), Human Target had a production shake up that culminated with a new showrunner.

And man, can you see the difference.

Immediately noticeable is the absence of the evocative, "victorious" (according to my closed captions), theme song from Bear McCreary, who contributed so much gorgeous music to BSG. In its place, a pale imitation tries and fails to live up to its predecessor. Then the resolution (and I use the word lightly) of that great finale cliffhanger was wrapped up in the freaking cold open of the first episode. This was a huge waste of Timothy Omundson, who played a seriously creepy antagonist who could have been mined for several more back story episodes and instead was killed right off the bat. But the biggest change that is really beginning to bug me is this:

They added women.

This is not automatically a death knell, not even for a show like this that nearly bows under the weight of testosterone over seasoning. Amy Acker was the distressed damsel of yore in that great finale episode, and I wish she'd stuck around (that girl is not dead, I don't care that the boat blew up.) I'm all for the strong, female character. Any other day or show and I'd be demanding it. First season Human Target gave us some really good ones too, not only Acker but also Emmanuelle Vaugier who I think is a gorgeous, kick-ass heroine in any role. She certainly gave Chance a run for his money in her episodes.

But we didn't get them. We got Isla and Ames.

I don't remember the boys being in drastic financial trouble last year, but by the end of episode one of the new season, they'd allowed a wealthy former-client, Ilsa Pucci, to buy and basically sugar-mommy their organization. This wasn't an organic move, it was shoe horned in to reconfigure the show in order to suit the desires of the new showrunner wanted it to be. That bugs me. I liked the nitty gritty environs of the loft. This slicker, polished incarnation is like a poor man's 007 headquarters with the computers in the tabletops and Winston learning how to sweep images from one screen to the next with the flick of his hand. I didn't like this look-at-how-tech-savvy-we-are crap in Quantum of Solace and I loathe it here.

Even played by Indira Varma (of the phenomenal Rome fame and lately from the BBC miniseries Luther), Ilsa's a mere foil to clutter up the guys lives and has already annoyed the hell out of me by bleating about their less than lovely methods. I mean, what the hell, lady? Did you or did you not know what you were getting into? Then shut up. Argh.

I suppose I could live with it after a while. There is some comedic fun to be had watching Winston maneuver around and sometimes through their squeamish "boss".

But then there's Ames.

Ames (played by, I don't know, some chippy. Oh all right, I looked it up and the actress is Janet Montgomery) is supposed to be a thief on the cusp of reformation. Instead she's an annoying brat shoehorned into a nearly pitch-perfect show because she looks good oiled up and crawling through heat ducts. Last week's episode made her the client and with the amount of time I spent yelling at the screen, (mostly along the lines of "you stupid git"), I practically watched the show twice because I had to keep rewinding it to hear the dialogue.

Worse, I hate how she softens Guerrero, this remorseless killer who drops everything (usually a body) whenever Chance asks for help puts him and bickers with Winston like the Odd Couple 2010. Now Winston is bickering with Ilsa and Guerrero is being all-too-easily won over by this ridiculous girl.

I just – I just – no. Just no.

Look, I get making tweaks to a show in an attempt to garnish new viewers. Frankly, I was happy just to have a second season. But don't mess with what works in the meantime. (Really? You didn't even like the theme song?)

After three episodes now that were mostly concerned with establishing the show's new rules, tomorrow night we get an episode chock full of back story as Chance's nemesis Baptiste returns. Having British actor Lennie James on the screen raises the bar for everyone and I have hopes that this return to the bones of the show will bring us just our three guys barely scraping themselves out of trouble and saving the day – again.

I love this show – or at least I loved it. I'm still watching it because Valley and McBride and Haley are working hard and having a good time. And when the stunts (including a speeding train that can't be stopped and a ski lift as the only way in or out of a monastery in the mountains) and plots are on full season one throttle, it's a fantastic show. I'm still watching it, but the doomsday clock is winding up even as I really, really hope my doubts and aggravations about this new direction are soon made obsolete.

That and the women.

Human Target is on Wednesday nights at 8 PM EST on FOX (channel 5 in the tri-state area).

Disclaimer: I did not receive any promotional consideration from the show in any way, sort, or form, though if it's Guerrero who's asking, I can't promise anything because I like to live.


  1. I don't know -- I kind of like the women. Bottom line for me is that the addition of the rich benefactor explains how these guys can afford to keep working. (Doing it for the money complicates the high-minded quality of their Good Samaritan exploits.)

    Also, by making her a widow, she's unlikely to hook up with Chance, who's supposedly got the "I Got The Love Of My Life Killed" blues and thus not in the market despite being hot hot hot.

    The young actress is just there for ratings. She's not a regular, but clearly GUYS between 18 and 34 are supposed to tune in just in case Janet Montgomery is on *AND* she takes some clothes off.

    Truthfully, if that's the tariff for the show -- if that's the price the producers had to pay to stay on the air -- I can pay that.

    (Sorry. Didn't notice the theme song before, so I can't comment on that.)

  2. Thanks for weighing in, Magdalen! I agree about the financial aspect of having the benefactor, but I'm getting weary of her getting in the way of the mission. I keep yelling at the screen, "what happened to being a SILENT partner?" And yes, the girl is totally there for the boys, and I'm OK w/that if it keeps the show on too, but she's becoming such a dead weight that I'm quickly becoming not OK. And I don't like how Guererro's character is changing to suit having her around him. She wasn't signed on originally for the whole season, so maybe they'll begin to phase her out. Hope springs.

    I've actually considered taking it off the DVR, but I keep hanging in, hoping to see some of the old sparks. Maybe during March sweeps.