“Blindspot” A Grey Story That Keeps You Guessing; “Quantico” Misses the Mark

If the calendar has passed the Autumnal Equinox, it must be time for the newest television shows to hit the airwaves of the traditional television networks. Usually these new programs are retreads of past tropes (cop shows! buddy comedies! fish out of water situations!) or are as intriguing as watching a hangnail, which is pretty much the reason that many viewers have left the traditional networks for the various cable, pay networks (HBO, Showtime, etc.) or the growing streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, etc.). Still, there are a few shows that will break out for the networks and make it worthwhile to watch commercials.

It is estimated that the major television networks call for somewhere between 20-60 “pilots” to be filmed that will give them a crop to go over and decided which are worthy of airing (or, on the other hand, give them fodder for what used to be the “slower” summer schedule). Cable networks may be counted in this as, once a network has decided to pass on a particular project, it may be revived by such networks as TBS, TNT, FX and others for their channel. This doesn’t stop the cable networks – nor the pay networks or the streaming services – from doing their own thing, however, so it’s conceivable that there could be somewhere around 100-150 pilots out there, of which potentially just 20-40 make the cut.

In 2013, there were a grand total of 26 new series’ (comedic, dramas and reality) that premiered on the major television networks. Of that number, only seven (including the outstanding The Blacklist and the iffy Brooklyn Nine-Nine) survived to come back the next season. In 2014, the number of premieres stayed almost the same (25) as did the survival rate (8). For 2015, the number has dropped to 17 and, by the end of the year (hell, maybe by the end of October), we’ll probably have a good idea as to how many of those will come back for a second season next fall.

One of those that should have a long shelf life (or the potential is there for it to have one) is the new NBC series Blindspot (Mondays at 10PM Eastern Time). From the start, the show lays down its premise very well – after Times Square is cleared out due to a duffel bag left in the street, an amnesiac woman emerges from said bag completely covered in intricate tattoos on her naked body – in that this Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander) is the key to something. That’s where the story gets a bit grey, though, and it serves to pull the viewer into the program while giving out drips of information along the way.

FBI Special Agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton), the lead investigator following Jane Doe’s – rescue? capture? recovery? you’re really not sure – apparently has a tie to whoever tattooed Doe as one of the decorations on her back addresses her to him by tattooing his name on her directly. Weller discovers after questioning Doe that she doesn’t have any recollections of who she is, who was the artist behind her tattoos or why she was in the bag in Times Square. As Weller – and the audience – finds out deeper into the program, these aren’t the only mysteries that Jane Doe brings to the table.

In the premiere episode, one of Jane Doe’s tattoos – a few lines of a Chinese dialect hidden behind an ear – are translated by Doe (amazing the FBI agents around her, including Weller) as an address in New York City. Heading to the address with Doe in tow (who is understandably quite interested in figuring out what the hell is going on), the FBI finds that a Chinese national is plotting to blow up the Statue of Liberty. At the same time, we learn a bit more about Doe as, while she is attempting to stop a man from beating his wife in the apartment complex, she shows off hand-to-hand combat moves that would make Jason Bourne proud in taking down two attackers.

The investigation – into both the Chinese national’s plot and Doe herself – continues, where we learn that Doe COULD be a “black ops” agent trained by the Navy Seals. Meanwhile, the FBI team rushes to the Statue of Liberty, where Weller and Doe take the terrorist down as Doe unlocks a part of her memory – her undergoing weapons training with an unknown bearded gentleman – and prevent the attack from taking place.

While we won’t get into the gist of the second episode (a fascinating story about a former military pilot who hacks a drone to carry out attacks on U. S. soil against those who wronged him), you’ll get enough from the first two episodes to see that this is a show that will have some staying power. Overall it is a “grey” story in that the characters all have some faults that they have to work through, the heroes aren’t all wearing white hats and the bad guys aren’t all twirling their mustaches. For Weller, it is the disappearance of a childhood friend that drove him to join the FBI; for other agents on the team, it is in how much they can trust Doe; for Doe herself, it is who she actually is and if she’s actually a force for good or a tool put in place to cause eventual catastrophe.

The only thing that might derail Blindspot is if it becomes an episodic “Terrorist of the Week” show. Sure, we need to know what happened to Jane Doe, but the team doesn’t need to stop a terrorist from destroying the Five Boroughs every week or stop some sort of crime. Through the usage of the tattoos covering Doe (that seems to be the directional after they are translated by the supercomputer built by the scientist working with the team), we’d like to see them give us more information about the characters and have them grow along with our knowledge of Doe. As long as Blindspot can keep me guessing, I am going to be hooked on the show.

The same cannot be said for the new ABC show Quantico (Sundays at 10PM Eastern Time). The open of the program introduces us to first generation Indian-American newbie FBI agent Alex Parrish (superb Indian actress Priyanka Chopra), who is lying amidst the rubble of a massive terrorist attack in New York City (apparently it has become OK again to depict the Big Apple as the target of terrorists, but that’s an argument for another time). After being plucked from the wreckage by fellow agents and New York’s finest, they put her to the task of identifying from her FBI training class the person who is responsible for the attack.

Here is the first problem with Quantico. From the Incident Command Post in New York, we are whisked back to when Parrish heads off to training with the FBI at its namesake headquarters. Along the way, we are quickly introduced to other members of her class:  a gay man, a Muslim woman, a “legacy” whose parents were both FBI agents and, of course, a hunky guy that Parrish meets on the plane to Quantico and has sex with in his car upon hitting the ground in Virginia (Parrish doesn’t believe she’ll ever meet the guy again; she’s slightly surprised when he shows up in her training class).

The problem is the constant “time hopping” back and forth of the program. Just when you’re beginning to get a gist for what is going on in “real time” (the terrorist attack), you’re pulled out of the situation and plopped back to when the major players were at Quantico undergoing training. While there are moments that push along the plotline (SPOILER ALERT:  a suicide in the premiere episode, driven by an exercise in investigation, brings out plenty of information), the overall feeling of the “school days” of the FBI agent-wannabes is that’s where the writers and producers want to push the “sexy” side of the story, with more emphasis on individuals hooking up than their coursework. Instead of concentrating on one side or the other, you’re never really sure what is supposed to be the main story that is being told by the writers.

By the end of the first episode, it is pretty easy to deduce what is going to happen. Parrish, as she is shocked to learn, is believed to be responsible for the terrorist act and is taken away in cuffs and leg irons on the order of one of her FBI instructors Liam O’Connor (Josh Hopkins). While they are driving away from the scene of the crime, the driver whips out a stun gun and zaps the guard sitting beside the driver and busts Parrish out; the driver is Parrish’s Quantico class director Agent Miranda Shaw (Aunjanue Ellis), who informs Parrish she is being framed for the terrorist attack and has to find out who actually did it (it is still a member of her graduating class from Quantico) and who is setting her up to take the fall.

The major problem that I have with Quantico is that I normally don’t like when my television programming is 50/50. You’ve got to be able to pull me in with a solid story and a raison d’etre before you start pushing different storyline arcs at me. In the case of this program, the writers have admitted they wanted to do a soap opera-style Die Hard; for me, that’s a no-go. I’d rather have the action than the bed-hopping, backstabbing and other “intrigue” that shows up in the soap opera genre. Put this together with the “time hopping” and I have to admit that Quantico is either something I’ll watch in passing or won’t bother tuning into again.

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