Skip to main content

Pilot Inspektor: An Advance Review of FOX's "Human Target"

I really wanted to like FOX's new procedural drama Human Target, which launches on the network next year, but found myself wondering about what the series could have been rather than what it actually is.

Based on a DC comic by Len Wein and Carmen Infantino (and later redeveloped into a Vertigo title by Peter Milligan), Human Target tells the story of Christopher Chance (Fringe's Mark Valley), a man who protects those in danger by becoming a literal human shield, a moving target capable of drawing the fire of those out to imperil his well-paying clients.

Chance is assisted in these high-stakes missions by his best friend and business manager Winston (Pushing Daisies' Chi McBride) and a tech-savvy nutcase named Guerrero (Watchmen's Jackie Earle Haley) whose allegiances seem as fluid as quicksilver. But rather than just watch his clients from afar, Chance forces his way into their lives, posing as someone who has access to their every move.

In the pilot episode, written by Jon Steinberg (Jericho) and directed by Simon West (Keen Eddie), we glimpse three such cases involving an array of clients. We're introduced to Chance, in fact, during a hostage situation at a bank where an irate and recently fired employee, Hollis (Desperate Housewives' Mark Moses), is threatening to kill his boss Ken Lydecker and detonate a bomb, killing everyone inside. Chance manages to free Lydecker (and switches places with him in the process), manages to disarm Hollis and shoot him, but doesn't manage to prevent him from detonating the plastic explosive on his vest. It's an explosion that kills Hollis and injures Chance in the process.

Rather than follow the advice of the gruff but well-meaning Winston and recuperate from his injuries, Chance accepts another assignment: to protect an engineer named Stephanie Dobbs (Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer) who is working on California's first bullet train, a train whose upcoming maiden voyage has seemed to coincide with an attempt on her life. Despite Winston's misgivings about Chance's state of mind, Chance agrees to become her human target, posing as her Japanese interpreter on the train's test run in order to unmask her would-be killer.

It's an assignment that brings them back in touch with the shady operative Guerrero (Haley), a man of dubious moral certainty who seems to be working both sides of the equation, providing security here, possibly flexing his knuckles there. Guerrero is one scary guy and Winston is uneasy about partnering with him on the Dobbs case but they have need of Guerrero's particular skill set.

What follows is a pretty straightforward procedural action-thriller, as Chance attempts to keep Stephanie safe from a number of potential murder attempts even as the clock in running out before the state-of-the-art bullet train will derail at 220 mph, thanks to some cost-cutting that Stephanie uncovered during the construction phase. There's a nice sense of frisson between Helfer's icy Stephanie and Valley's Chance but there's little time for any real emotional connection between them, given the nature of the series' episodic formula.

Likewise, it's hard to shake the feeling that there's no real emotional stakes here for the cooly-detached Chance whatsoever. The original pilot script indicated why Chance seems to have a what Winston calls a "death wish" (hint: it involved a missing woman) but without any real information in the shot pilot about just what happened to Chance, Winston's concerns come off as more than a little puzzling, given that we don't really see any indication that Chance is acting out of the ordinary or might be acting with less than his normal professionalism.

Valley, McBride, and Haley are all well-cast in their respective roles but aren't given much to do with any real depth of character. The guest cast, which includes Culp, Helfer, and Danny Glover (who, rather shockingly, turns up in the final scene as a new client) are all fantastic but also seem to be going through the motions of the plot without much nuance in their guest roles. Everything in Human Target, in fact, is very much operating on the surface level and there's a decided dearth of emotional stakes as well as a shocking lack of humor, a real shame given that each of the three leads excels at deadpan humor.

FOX has made a cottage industry of late out of procedural dramas and Human Target does work best as the sort of procedural series one might have found in the 1980s, meaning that it feels a little dated and somewhat creaky. Human Target attempts to be a fun thrill-ride but there's no real hook here, due to the shallowness of the characters and the feeling that we know Chance will not only survive his assignments but nicely wrap up each case by the end of the hour.

But rather than suggest that the producers graft on a serialized plot, I'd instead urge them to deepen Chance's character and give the audience a reason for being invested in his particular situation. The pilot episode doesn't offer us an origin story for Chance and his cohorts, nor does it tell us why the story is picking up at this precise moment in time, which is a major misstep. Stories like this usually benefit from starting at the beginning (seeing Chance and Winston work together for the first time, for example) or by showing us these characters at a precise moment of change and upheaval in their lives.

We're told that Chance has a "death wish," but we don't really see why this is the case, which (as mentioned before) was at least touched on in the pilot script. If Chance is changing his M.O., taking unnecessary risks, and placing himself in danger needlessly, the writers had better show us why he's doing so, what his motivations are, and what's changed in his outlook. It's a disservice to the viewer, to the character, and to the series as a whole to do otherwise.

Human Target could be an action-packed adrenaline thrill-ride but it comes across as a little cold and stiff, thanks to the lack of humor here. Chance and Winston should be quick-witted verbal sparring partners, tossing off colorful quips with the speed of a semi-automatic, but instead they seem more like a bickering old couple. The series needs to be slicker, smarter, and craftier. The identity of the killer in the main assignment this week was painfully obvious to anyone who has ever watched a single television mystery, from CSI to Agatha Christie's Poirot, or read any detective novel. These cases need to keep the audience guessing and keep the action and tension high at all times, even as lightening the mood with some badinage.

Ultimately, unless Human Target can find the fun and funny in Chance's life both on and off assignment (and keep the mysteries of the week engaging, twisty, and surprising), there's no real hook here to keep viewers coming back week after week, making this series a likely target for termination.

Human Target launches in early 2010 on FOX.


MeganE said…
Can someone please give Mark Valley a decent show?
Brodie said…
Definitely sounds formulaic. Wish they could have done something better with such a strong cast. I love Mark Valley and Chi McBride. These two guys could be really funny and sarcastic together but it sounds like they're just playing it straight, which is too bad.

And the fact that the main character's last name is "Chance" really isn't a good sign. Very Character-By-Numbers.
Tempest said…
@MeganE -- Amen. I still mourn "Keen Eddie."

I'll give this a shot since I like so many of the actors. Hopefully, it will find it's way . . .
Jon88 said…
Steven Culp? (4th graf)
Anonymous said…
Christopher Chance is the name of the comic-book character the show is based on, so you can blame the comic for the last name.
El PresiBENte said…
Seems all they took from the Vertigo comic is the name. Where are the disguises?!? That was the hook of original Vertigo series. It was about Chance slowly losing his own persona (and possibly seeking to rediscover--or discard it altogether) after years of adopting that of his clients.

They would've been better off adapting the original 4-part mini-series of the comic.
RikerDonegal said…
This was a TV show once before. It starred Rick Springfield. It was a Pet Fly show (the folks that brought us Sentinel, Viper, Flash).

It didn't last long, but I really liked it cos I like Rick Springfield.

As a huge Valley/Keen Eddie fan I'm hoping that this is a show I will like...
Anonymous said…
A dissapointment. Silly story line, overacted. The show will be axed. Mel Gibson played a similar character with more charm.

Popular posts from this blog

Have a Burning Question for Team Darlton, Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly, or Michael Emerson?

Lost fans: you don't have to make your way to the island via Ajira Airways in order to ask a question of the creative team or the series' stars. Televisionary is taking questions from fans to put to Lost 's executive producers/showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and stars Matthew Fox ("Jack Shephard"), Evangeline Lilly ("Kate Austen"), and Michael Emerson ("Benjamin Linus") for a series of on-camera interviews taking place this weekend. If you have a specific question for any of the above producers or actors from Lost , please leave it in the comments section below . I'll be accepting questions until midnight PT tonight and, while I can't promise I'll be able to ask any specific inquiry due to the brevity of these on-camera interviews, I am looking for some insightful and thought-provoking questions to add to the mix. So who knows: your burning question might get asked after all.

What's Done is Done: The Eternal Struggle Between Good and Evil on the Season Finale of "Lost"

Every story begins with thread. It's up to the storyteller to determine just how much they need to parcel out, what pattern they're making, and when to cut it short and tie it off. With last night's penultimate season finale of Lost ("The Incident, Parts One and Two"), written by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, we began to see the pattern that Lindelof and Cuse have been designing towards the last five seasons of this serpentine series. And it was only fitting that the two-hour finale, which pushes us on the road to the final season of Lost , should begin with thread, a loom, and a tapestry. Would Jack follow through on his plan to detonate the island and therefore reset their lives aboard Oceanic Flight 815 ? Why did Locke want to kill Jacob? What caused The Incident? What was in the box and just what lies in the shadow of the statue? We got the answers to these in a two-hour season finale that didn't quite pack the same emotional wallop of previous season

Pilot Inspektor: CBS' "Smith"

I may just have to change my original "What I'll Be Watching This Fall" post, as I sat down and finally watched CBS' new crime drama Smith this weekend. (What? It's taken me a long time to make my way through the stack of pilot DVDs.) While it's on following Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars on Tuesday nights (10 pm ET/PT, to be exact), I'm going to be sure to leave enough room on my TiVo to make sure that I catch this compelling, amoral drama. While one can't help but be impressed by what might just be the most marquee-friendly cast in primetime--Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, Jonny Lee Miller, Amy Smart, Simon Baker, and Franky G all star and Shohreh Aghdashloo has a recurring role--the pilot's premise alone earned major points in my book: it's a crime drama from the point of view of the criminals, who engage in high-stakes heists. But don't be alarmed; it's nothing like NBC's short-lived Heist . Instead, think of it as The Italian