Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Television Tuesday: Human Target Finale

Welcome to the final installment of the She Said/She Said Human Target discussion between myself and author Samantha Hunter. My first review of Human Target (pre-Samantha) was here. If you've missed any of the cross blog posts, Samantha's first volley was here, my backhand return happened here, Samantha's hard serve down the center line occurred here and my weak return volley begins now.

Well now. That was an adventure.

At this point, Samantha and I are very close to agreeing on much about the show Human Target. We agree that season one was vastly superior to season two and that the show majorly veered off course with the attempt to make it more "woman friendly" by adding two new female cast members (one of whom is totally worthless story wise) and thus creating a forced romanced between our hero Christopher Chance and his unnecessary benefactor Isla Pucci has been a key component to the show's downgrade. But all that agreeing is boring, so here's some conflict to spice it up because we don't seem to agree on a key point.


In her latest post, Samantha wrote the following:

I don't believe the actors themselves need to have personal chemistry to make it work (in response to Kiersten's Mr. and Mrs. Smith note) — it's nice if they do, but to my mind, it's their job to sell the story, either way.
Chemistry is essential to selling a romance. Do I believe it is an actor's job to sell a story, or in this case, a romance, no matter what may or may not inherently exist between him/her and his/her counterpart? Absolutely. It's their job to make us believe in something that isn't there. But good casting directors look for pairs that have chemistry together because it's something you simply can't fake. An Officer and a Gentleman is an iconic movie, a romance yardstick in many ways with richly drawn, deeply portrayed characters. But Richard Gere and Debra Winger who portrayed, respectively, the hero and heroine of the film, famously hated one another. I mean they loathed one another. They had extraordinary chemistry together, perhaps fueled by their mutual hatefest.

In Human Target, we don't even see that, and it shows. I don't believe it's a flaw of the actors (I could believe it's one of the director, but that's something else), because, as I said above, it's something you can't fake, it's there or it isn't, and a good casting director, a good showrunner, will pick a pair that have it. Human Target didn't.

Samantha adds: 

I see it as a failure in the acting and the writing. It's their job to make the chemistry work.  Romance is a natural offshoot of a show like this — you have a show full of sexy, magnetic guys, and it would be completely unbelievable that they don't at least hook up here and there.
My point exactly. There were several great women guest stars peppering season one. Why bring in a totally new romantic interest rather than build upon what had already proved itself to work?

Case in point: White Collar. Marsha Thompson, late of LOST (sniff, miss you!), who played Agent Diana Barrigan in the pilot was not retained for season one. Though not a romantic foil, Thompson's chemistry with star hottie Mathew Bomer was great, but when the full season began, she was nowhere to be seen. Now I don't know what actually happened because the producers failed to consult me (more fool them). Maybe it was scheduling, maybe it was a specific choice, but she was gone. Instead, Natalie Morales was added to the cast as Agent Lauren Cruz and I cringed every time she came onscreen – she just didn't fit and had zilch in the chemistry department with Bomer. Come season two, who should return to the show but Marsha Thompson with Morales out. They didn't try to force a different woman into the slot; they went back with what had worked the first time. Take note Human Target.

From Samantha: 

Season one was solid, with all kinds of good bits to build on. But the pacing was all off as they grappled with how to do it, and I don't feel I know any of these characters any better by the end of season two.
Again, agree. Season one was solid. The show wasn't quite sure what it was, but it was certainly feeling its way out. This is not unusual for a new show. The comedy Cougartown started out as a sitcom about women over 40 looking for love with younger men. But when the producers saw the kooky chemistry that developed amongst the cul-de-sac crew and that the show was best when that group got to hang out together and drink lots of wine, a great show was born (though continually hampered by that off-putting title).

Human Target was beginning that chrysalis towards the end of season one. We heard about the old man all season, we'd even seen a showdown between Chance and his former comrade in assassinations, Baptiste. Then in the season one finale, we got more rich detail into Chance's back story and boy was it a doozy. Why should Winston and Guerrero be treated any differently?

Here is where, in the spirit of a show about a reformed killer for hire, I'd like to mention character assassination. Winston and Guerrero were characters with magnificent potential who were hamstringed by the ridiculous misdirection that was season two. Winston has gone from jaded former cop to whiny den mother who spends more time floundering around looking for a storyline than being the crucial clutch player of season one.

Meanwhile Guerrero has gone from bad ass mother*cker whose name alone makes the baddest of bad guys cringe in fear to some disgruntled babysitter of the hardly to be borne Ames. Why not, as Samantha suggests, delve deeper into the backgrounds of these two compelling men? Guerrero was affected by Chance's change of life direction; by choosing not to kill him, Chance proved he'd undergone a fundamental alteration to his core code. By his own code, Guerrero could no longer go up against him; instead, whenever Chance asked for helped, Guerrero would now drop everything and go. This relationship offered a number of comic moments, such as when, after speaking with Chance, Guerrero hanged up the phone, opened the trunk of his beloved Eldo (Eldorado), and said to the bound, gagged, and beaten man inside "it's your lucky day, dude." This is a complex character, essential a really bad dude with a wonky moral code who kills all too easily but whose loyalty to Chance is unquestioned. What rich stories might be gained from putting that loyalty to the test?

Samantha and I disagree in our enjoyment of the episode Imbroglio. I think I was so delighted to see some of the old show's fire again that I missed the overall picture. Upon review, I more than see her point about Guerrero looking less than completely accomplished as he's somewhat easily overpowered. This was further illuminated by the following episode, Cool Hand Guerrero, where a nascent if skilled thief like Ames easily broke through paranoid Guerrero's safe and in addition went on to break his pass code for the super secure briefcase. That he kept files on everyone wasn't surprising (only Chance could possibly be considered anything close to "friend"); that he'd made it so easy to find those files had me screaming at the screen. The Guerrero of season one would never, ever be that obvious.

Still, I maintain that the show is at its best when Chance, Winston, and Guerrero are left alone to do their thing – whether it's their action thing, their male bonding thing, or their shoot shit up thing. Above all else, these guys have fantastic chemistry together.

And that's essentially the heart of what Human Target lacked this season – chemistry. Chemistry in the stories, chemistry in the character interactions, and, above all, chemistry in its "romance". Human Target is a show that needs to snap, crackle, and pop on all cylinders. It needs to be tasty to our senses, to our minds, and most especially to our hearts. If it miraculously gets renewed for a third season, I won't be disappointed because I'm not done with these three amigos, but without a return to form, whether I'll be tuning in remains top secret.

Thanks to everyone who tuned in to mine and Samantha's pas de deux of blog posts on Human Target. We had so much fun doing it that we're currently brainstorming new shows to dissect in our next discussion. Human Target Season One is available on DVD and it is definitely worth checking out. Season Two – well, enough's been said on that. For now.

Disclaimer: I did not receive any enticements, bribes, or assundry for watching this show or for beating it into the ground, merely the kind request of a fellow writer to blog about television we loved – or loved once. Please, don't send Guerrero after me.



  1. Kiersten, not to be completely boring, but after watching season one epi with Moon Bloodgood, I have to even back off on my comment about chemistry being all in the acting rather than in the actors. I still think actors have to do their best to make it work (and I do think Varma did -- she acted her ass off, but it just wasn't right to start with, so what can you do?), but the chemistry between Chance and the Dr. that Bloodgood plays was sizzling... so, if they have that, yes, it works so much better, and he never, ever had it with Pucci.

    On all other points here, we agree --- I can see why you'd like Imbroglio w/ the guys working together, though I think there was some of that in the Christmas epi? I can't recall the title right now -- where Chance protects the teenaged kid -- but that one was a terrific episode, I thought. More of the old Chance back in place.

    I see your point about Winston -- you're right -- they did weaken him.

    What's minorly insulting to women viewers -- and to romance writers and readers -- is this weakened, crappy view of how to integrate romance into a show, what it means to create emotional conflict, and so forth -- they underestimated us on all counts. I think I am insulted, actually, now that I think about it, as a romance writer and as a female viewer of the show, by the implementation of Season 2. They thought this would lure women in? I suggest they read some romance novels -- good ones.

    We can only hope we get to keep this going if there is a Season 3 -- I haven't given up hope, but I know it's pretty iffy.

    Thanks for the wonderful back and forth. I'm trying to think of another show I feel this passionately about (love Justified, but can't find anything wrong with it, LOL -- except for Winona -- and there's always Burn Notice. I like White Color, but it's the buddy dynamic that works there for me more than any of the romance...).


  2. Thanks! It's been fun. I'm so glad you thought of this cross blog chat and invited me to play along.

    You said: "What's minorly insulting to women viewers -- and to romance writers and readers -- is this weakened, crappy view of how to integrate romance into a show, what it means to create emotional conflict, and so forth -- they underestimated us on all counts."

    Yep. This is why women writers need to be more prominent in the writer's room especially on guy heavy shows like this. There needs to be that balance throughout the entire show, not only when you want to chick it up or add romance, so it doesn't stand out so far in relief when you do exactly that. As writers, we always talk about how if the story isn't there, no amount of pitching or marketing or blogging is going to do it. Write the best book you can first; everything else is secondary to that. So too is it with romance in a genre show like this. If the framework, the story, the characters, the structure, if it isn't there first, no one will every believe the emotional commitment could advance to romance.

    As for our next topic for She Said/She Said, I was thinking Justified too, but agree that there's nothing wrong with it to poke at. I'm not actually watching White Collar right now but when I do check in, it's because of that great buddy chemistry between Neil and Burke (plus the awesomeness that is Mozzie).

    Burn Notice may be a good option since, while I still love Mike and Sam rules, adding Jesse was a major misstep and the show has definitely not the must see it once was for me.

  3. This has to be one of my favorite reading pastimes on the internet right now! Great job, ladies.

    I think I need to go back to see Season 1 again, so I can really get the flavor of the dynamic of the three guys. Although it might make me a little sad when I see what's missing.

    I mean, how can you NOT love the scene last year where Winston and Guerrero think they're going to die, and Guerrero wants to confess his sins, and Winston says, "No! I don't want that to be the last thing I hear before I die." LOL

    I actually liked the Guerrero we saw in Imbroglio, and even though I didn't care for the woman who intrigued him, I still shivered at the elevator scene when he said he'd see her again. Tasty!

    I don't want to know more about Guerrero's background, or motivation, or any of that. I like his moral ambiguity. That's what appeals about his character. There is no apology from him for the way he is. I don't want him softened up or humanized exactly either. They can do that with Chance and it makes sense. He's a hero, but Guerrero isn't, and it's a mistake to make him one.

    I understand needing to add characters to expand the story possibilities. At least they didn't do the typical "We've been best friends for 15 years and I never mentioned my baby sister with major issues? My bad."

    I love White Collar because of the bromance -- they have great chemistry and I love their interactions. I love Mozzie too, but I lost a little bit of that after seeing the "backstory episode" recently. Mmm. I guess I need a little more mystery with my characters!

  4. Hi Donna! I have to admit, Guererro's moral ambiguity intrigues me too. Samantha's be re-watching Season 1 too; I'm sure she'll chime in w/her own observations about that. But it's that kind of connection you mentioned between him and Winston that seems to have been sacrificed this season or at least majorly sidelined. One of the absolute worst episode subplots was when Ames got "married" in Vegas but didn't invite Winston. It was such a ridiculous subplot, so completely out of character for everyone not to mention that 1. the season one Winston really couldn't have cared less 2. Guerrero karaoking? I don't think so.

    The White Collar bromance rocks, a textbook perfect marriage of actor and character and chemistry. I like me some back story, but didn't see Mozzie's episode. He too might be a character best enjoyed by remaining mysterious.

    Thanks for reading our She Said/She Said posts. We've had a great time doing them!

  5. I just saw I wrote White Color -- hate typos, but obviously you knew what I meant. Love Mozzie! He's up there with Abby from NCIS, for sure -- would be fun to have a crossover with those two! :)

    I love Winston/Guerrero at each other, not being friends or friendly, and I didn't need any explanation for that. They could have just kept on keeping on, and I mentioned in my previous blog, I am also on the "don't dig into Guerrero" too much bandwagon.

    You know who we missed, was Harry -- I thought he wasn't. . .bad. Kind of a neat addition, the anti-Guerrero. I liked him in the bar episode but not so much in the one where they were getting ambushed in the building.

    But he could work, if they did it right.

    Honestly, seasonal or even flavor of the week romance works for me, the more I see of Season 1 -- all they really had to do (to live up to their warning label at the start) was to sex things up a bit. Seriously, don't just hint at the romance, show the kiss, show Chance or any of the guys crawling out of bed, let them do the deed now and then, and they get on with the action and we'll all be cooked and happy.

    If I have any complaint about Season 1, which rocks otherwise, is that it's all so CHASTE. They went way overboard trying to, as you say, chick it up and add all this big emotional romance, when really some sex here and there would have done it.

    IMO, anyway. :)


  6. Oh, and on Burn Notice...

    Jesse, yes -- love the actor, he reminds me of my son, actually, LOL -- but his role is exactly what's wrong with the show overall IMO -- they just keep recycling the same old thing.

    So, we've unburned Michael (mostly) so now we can burn someone else, and have to find out who burned him (whatever).

    And Fi... don't get me started on Fi. Liked her first season but if they do one more cycle of Fi gets mad and leaves Michael and then one of them almost gets killed, and then they come back together in a fit of drama, and then they fight again... yuck. The huge problem with that show, much like Ilsa, was not sending Fi back to Ireland when they had the chance and getting some new hotties in there for Michael (again, Moon Bloodgood, the detective, would have been a great seasonal love interest, then it goes away for whatever reason....)

    I also hated how they made his mother so naggy and whiney.

    In some ways, with these shows, they should focus on what they are good at, and when it comes to romance for them, less is more...