Thanks to the increasingly crowded and varied TV landscape, it’s hard to pick out the exact thing that puts Banshee above other shows that overlap with its general shtick. As a setting, Banshee, Pennsylvania has an interesting Appalachian vibe, but it’s one more vividly felt a few states south on FX’s Justified, where you’ll also find more flavorful dialogue spoken by far more distinctive and well-realized characters. The long term damage of too many years spent in prison was more hauntingly portrayed in last year’s Sundance series Rectify, and if you’re looking for knotty, double-life plot shenanigans, you should probably be checking out The Americans instead.
But, come on, plot and texture aren’t really what we come to Banshee for on a Friday night –it’s the oodles of blood, sex, and violence. Unfortunately, the show isn’t the undisputed champ of that, either: even if we contain our comparisons to just what’s on Cinemax, Banshee is playing second fiddle to the tighter, more focused thrills of Strikeback. And once we start looking further out and slightly back in time, we see that Starz’s Spartacus raised the bar for boob and bloodfest actioneer shows far higher than anyone could have anticipated, thanks to an operatic and precisely crafted sense of purpose that made every sword and pelvic thrust count.
So, what does Banshee have going for it? Surprisingly – considering this a show that prefers buffet style nudity to the tasteful type, and once spent an entire episode on a single (pretty damn awesome) fight scene- Banshee’s real secret ingredient is its modesty. This is a show that’s known what it wants to be pretty much from episode one, for better or worse. The worse of that half is that, some weeks, it really seems like Banshee exists because a producer at Cinemax figured out that [violence porn x basically porn porn + Friday night = profit], with all the other aspects that make it into an actual show coming secondary. The better of that half is that, most weeks, you just don’t really care. The show has set such a low bar for itself that it often leaves you more impressed by its successes than disappointed by its failures.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying Banshee is back, and expectedly nuts as ever, both as a vehicle for edge of your seat action scenes from the production crew, and scattershot, seat of their pants plotting from the writers. Antony Starr still broods and smarms aplenty as a not so “ex” con pretending to be Sherriff Lucas Hood, and continues to only ever really move his arms when doing stunts. Ivana Milicevic’s Ana is still figuring out whether she’d rather be a housewife or out running heist, while Ulrich Thomsen is still stirring up trouble around the fringes as the enterprising Kai. And, as usual, there’s not nearly enough of Frankie Faison as the put-upon barkeep, Sugar, but oh well: bottom line, Banshee is still Banshee.