Off Target

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Off Target

While half a billion people (supposedly) watched the Golden Globes on NBC last night, Fox ran brand new counter-programming, and they didn't just go through the motions either, no way.  They ran the two hour premiere of hit action series (and Dick Cheney wet dream) 24 and the pilot of a new action show called Human Target.  Since you know I can't let a pilot go by un-watched, I waited out the snore-fest that was the Golden Globes and then started up Human Target.  It's amazing how much the eyeballs can take.

Human Target is an utterly generic, completely episodic action show that is equal parts the A-Team and the Bodyguard.  Our main character, Christopher Chance (played by Mark Valley), is some sort of high-priced super exclusive bodyguard who draws a client's would-be assailants out and kills them, you know, after the client realizes that the police won't help for all the usual reasons that they never do in situations like these.  Chance has a crew of guys who help him and make wisecracks at each other, his slightly protective partner who worries that Chance has a death wish (Chi McBride) and a psycho who does some other shit and may have been mean in the past (Jackie Earle Haley). 

The pilot mostly takes place in the confined space of a bullet train, as Chance is protecting the designer of said train from someone who attempted to blow up her car.  So, the trifecta of influences gets a dash of a little Under Siege 2 action (the episode airing Wednesday is set on an airplane and will obviously draw from Passenger 57 and Air Force One).  Anyway, there's one cool fight that takes place in a ventilation shaft, but when the characters spill into the body of the train car, it becomes really boring, with lots of kicking and punching and taking just long enough to pad the episode to the proper length.  There are a couple of fun and humorous moments - Valley engaging in a conversation of incredibly stilted-sounding Japanese while he poses as a translator and Valley taking his payment, a huge diamond ring, off the hand of his employer as the music swells in such a way that you would think he was putting it on her hand - but basically it's pretty standard stuff going and the show is completely not worth watching.

But, since we're here, some things occurred to me about the nature of the episodic procedural and what not to do.  Human Target essentially doesn't work because there's no mystery to who the would-be assailant is, we're introduced to three characters from the plot of the episode and since one of them is the client, we've got a choice between two characters and it becomes pretty clear who the villain is.  This, naturally, renders a lot of the tension completely moot, in a show like this, once the who is obvious, the why is easily ascertained, and everything else becomes filler.  Now, in some respect, this episode's procedural element was gonna suffer no matter what because the writers aren't just throwing us into the world of this particular episode, they're throwing us into the world of the show; instead of just having the particulars to elucidate, they've got to give us good stuff on the principal characters.  But, they do their characters a tremendous disservice by making the plot so easy to grasp that their relative within-this-world expertise is diminished.  Maybe they didn't want to overload us with too much information, but my general rule is that more information is better than less, although I recognize that for television executives, clear cut simplicity is the name of the game.

In order to have a procedural plot really zing, you need at least six characters: the victim, the villain, the villain's accomplice and at least three characters who either serve as red herrings or conduits on the way to new revelations.  Any fewer and the story becomes too simple, it doesn't go anywhere and the show loses power.  (Generally, there isn't room for more.)  This is the point that Human Target totally missed in its pilot.  It may correct the mistake in future episodes, maybe even in the next one since they won't have the principles to introduce, but I won't be watching to find out.

1 Comment

  • 1

    Off Target:
    Steve, your first point is your best. HT was opposite the Golden Globe's and came in second. I mean, really, does anyone care who wins a Golden Globe? So, why care here? Is Chance going to die? A veritable nuclear explosion goes off in an office building and this guy walks out with a small limp. Okay, so he's not going to die in this episode or any other. But, he fights really bad guys. Oh, and he also fights bad girls. Yes, Virginia, there are really bad girls out there, too!

    Too simple? See point #1, again. This was up against the Golden Globes... Any plot more complicated and the audience won't get it. Red herrings can be so confuuuusing. For God's sake look at the Massachusetts senate elections the other day. Was that "America speaking" or the sound of a horde of dumb-ass Red Sox fans ordering Bud light? If you want suspense watch "Wheel of Fortune." Oh, oh, the flipper almost landed on "Bankrupt!!!"

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