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The Blacklist

The beginning makes an impression: this middle-aged man in a hat and coat rushes into the lobby of the FBI headquarters, logs in by name, then takes off both the coat and the hat, kneels calmly, holds his hands over his head and doesn’t have to wait two seconds before everyone flashes and honks and countless gun barrels are aimed at him: Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington, the “concierge of crime”, turns himself in to the FBI. Smiling. In cooperation intention.

A good intro that is, but it’s a deceptive one. Because of this tight precision “The Blacklist” , the new drama series on NBC, stay quite a long way away. The thriller was concocted by a certain Jon Bokenkamp, ​​whom you certainly don’t need to know as the author of the late Angelina Jolie thriller “Taking Lives”. The most important thing here is anyway the main actor: James Spader . Of the ‘Boston Legal’ star returns after long hiatus and skips his Robert California “The Office” and the cinema comeback in “Lincoln” will finally be followed by a leading role in the series. At 53 and with his hair cropped short, he’s a hybrid of Hannibal Lecter and Benjamin Linus, a criminal mastermind with a penchant for good food and sardonic one-liners. And because Spader has one of the most profound, greatest voices among American actors, one still likes to listen to him when he has to speak such stupid dialogues as here in part, and even when the soundtrack is forever repeated for the umpteenth time the obvious Stones howler “Sympathy for the Devil” is used to comment on the diabolic nature of a character.

So Red Reddington, the long-sought mega criminal. Once a lawman himself, he’s back in the fold, albeit behind bars. He has a plan – and a “blacklist” of the most depraved super gangsters, and Red knows them all. He knows when to strike and how to catch them. And he offers to help the FBI. Condition: He only wants to talk to the young profiler Elizabeth Keen, who is just starting her job. At the latest when the inexperienced law enforcement officer sits opposite the character villain Red, who is trapped in a spacey high-security box, you can confidently trigger the “silence of the lambs” alarm.

It is all the more disturbing then how little capital Bokenkamp makes from this proven premise. In any case, one Villain-of-the-Week is ostensibly removed from the blacklist per episode: In the pilot it’s a Serbian mercenary who wants revenge, in episode two a killer called “Freelancer”, in the third (and so far most moderate) episode Chinese brutal gangster. Red always knows (from whatever source) at the beginning of the episodes that an attack will happen at some point, so he can offer advice and solve the case together with Keen and her team. However, the plot is inconsistent in all those points that actually constitute it. In the pilot episode, for example, Red not only talks to Keen, but also to her boss, Special Agent Cooper ( Harry J., “Dollhouse” , “Man of Steel”). In addition, Red escapes the high-tech shackles of the authorities again and again without any dramaturgical distress: sometimes he meets Keen at the zoo, sometimes he flies with her to Montreal (where he even escapes and can commit a murder with impunity), sometimes he is even allowed to commit a murder complete explosive undercover operations.

As entertaining as it is to watch Spader in his ironic deception maneuvers, this strange permissiveness remains questionable. In In “Sleepy Hollow” , the Fox competitor product, one can also ask oneself why the police so nonchalantly allow a confused time traveler as an investigator, but in this case the whole series is based on supernatural assumptions – which ultimately allows the absurd twists and turns. “The Blacklist”, on the other hand, presents itself as a tough crime series that uses Washington as a real setting and only credits its sinister main character with humor – otherwise it is dead serious. Against this background, how are you supposed to swallow the plot absurdities that are accumulating?
However, “The Blacklist” has other weaknesses. And the main female character is the most serious. In the first few episodes, Elizabeth Keen remains a woman without qualities, who seems as if she had strayed onto Jodie Foster territory under duress from a Nicholas Sparks film adaptation. All that is known about her is either to look at her from the outside (she has a scar!) or is reported: She is said to be a brilliant elite profiler fresh out of Quantico University, tough and with social deficits. But it’s not the plot that brings this characterization to light – no, the unfortunate actress Megan Boonehave to enumerate this myself, at the direction of Cooper. This tendency towards inelegant character presentations is also inherent in other parts of the series. Right at the beginning, for example, Keen’s colleague Ressler ( Diego Klattenhoff , who left Mike Faber “Homeland” ) rattle off everything you should know about Reddington from the off. That goes with the lack of imagination with which the other characters are treated – especially Cooper and Ressler seem so pale so far that they could have been deleted right away. In episode two, Red, the super-criminal, negotiates an immunity deal that earns him two bodyguards, including torture-loving CIA agent Malik ( Kick it Like Beckham ‘s Parminder Nagra ). But it remains just as underexposed to date as the rest.

The dialogs? Another construction site. When the FBI profiler meets Italian human rights activist Floriana Campo in the second episode, she greets her with the solemn words: “I admire you so much! I wrote my thesis on your work in Kuala Lumpur.” It’s going to be difficult if you don’t want Lieutenant Frank Drebin to turn the corner with his “Naked Gun” – especially when Campo (played by the great Isabella Rossellini with enviable uninterestedness, by the way ) turns out to be an unscrupulous trafficker in girls. Actually, that should throw the young investigator into a crisis of meaning, but she has other worries: her kind husband Tom ( Ryan Eggold from “90210” ), whose thigh was shredded by a knife in the pilot episode, seems to lead a double life. He keeps a gun, lots of money and false papers under the living room floorboards. Is this the seed for a season-spanning mystery? The third episode’s paranoia-heavy cliffhanger suggests that. The motives of the self-confident Red are still in the dark. Why is he so fatherly fixated on Elizabeth that he even stands protectively in front of her in episode three? Is he possibly just using the FBI as a useful idiot to help him “blacklist” personal enemies? He still has something ahead of him, because the list is long. To be on the safe side, the authors begin the second episode with the number 145: You never know

It remains to be seen whether the list can be processed. After all, “The Blacklist” is not a completely unsuccessful series. A lot succeeds, even beyond the charismatic main character. The pilot film directed by Joe Carnahan (“The Grey”), for example, has a good pacing and shines with surprisingly nasty, assembled shocking moments as well as a formidable action choreography in the middle part, which almost sweeps the viewer out of their armchairs; Even later, the episodes always score points with cleverly condensed sequences and internal arcs of suspense. But this is counteracted by the slack figure drawing and a crime thriller cliché firework of last-second countdowns and crazy computer tinkerers.

So it’s not quite clear where the journey is going: The gang hunt could get very boring pretty quickly or, on the contrary, gradually become more and more exciting – provided the authors succeed in making the characters much more lively than they have been able to do so far.

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