If I were to cite one misgiving about The Blacklist, it is that it doesn’t allow star James Spader to keep that excellent moustache he had in Lincoln. Beyond that, The Blacklist scrubs up just fine.
James Spader is Raymond Reddington, a former FBI agent who went rogue and is now on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List – a list that Reddington believes to be merely PR. After years of eluding the feds as he traveled the globe causing mischief, Reddington walks into the FBI headquarters one day to turn himself in. Reddington isists that he’ll only talk to one person – FBI Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) who is starting her very first day as a criminal profiler with the bureau. Teaming an established leading man with a much younger attractive lady is a novel approach for television, to be sure. Reddington offers the FBI access to a list of his own that he’s been compiling – a blacklist filled with all of the nasty rogues that the FBI doesn’t even know about. He promises to track them down, with support from Agent Keen – a woman who is discovering has been the target herself of some sort of conspiracy after learning her husband is not who he claims to be.
Looming over the pilot is the question as to what Reddingtons interest in Agent Keen is. The show is keen to establish that there is far more to their relationship than Keen realises. The obvious assumption to be made is that Reddington may actually be her father, but that would seem a little too easy and trite for this show. It may adhere to the basic formula of a procedural, but one gets the sense that The Blacklist is trying to push beyond expectation. Hopefully the mystery surrounding their relationship is resolved sooner than later – it’s really not a mystery that’s interesting enough to serve as a core function of the series narrative spine.
If not for James Spader, The Blacklist would be just another series that would sit alongside lower profile procedurals like Person of Interest, The Mentalist, and Criminal Minds. Instead, his performance elevates the show considerably to almost be must-watch TV. Spader delivers exactly what this series needs, which is a good ol’ dose of ham. Without it, the show is just a better-than-average rote procedural. Instead, The Blacklist has Spader at his most charming, moving effortlessly as he gobbles up and spits out every scene.
What enables the show to survive the dominance of Spader is that the supporting cast are strong performers who are present in every scene. Co-star Megan Boone holds her own nicely against Spader as Agent Keen. Boone isn’t really given much in this pilot beyond narrative-required character moments, but every moment permeates an energetic strength that prevents her from being washed away on screen by Spader. Harry Lennix is given far less to do in the supporting role as FBI Assistant Director Harold Cooper, functioning only to administrate the bonding of Keen to the world of Reddington. Lennix, however, is always more than welcome on my TV screen and will no doubt be up to the challenge of an expanded role in future episodes.
As with any procedural, The Blacklist will soon settle into a groove and service viewers who are looking for well-made television candy every week. Those wanting a show that is more grounded, layered, and nuanced would be best advised to go elsewhere. The Blacklist is excellent TV…should this be the type of TV you are looking for.
The Blacklist airs locally on Channel 7 on Monday nights at 8:30pm.