One episode was provided prior to broadcast.
Television certainly isn’t lacking for procedurals that pair dedicated cops with kooky partners, but it’s almost impressive (or dismaying, if you’re not feeling so generous) how many spins on the formula have hit the small screen over the past few years. Last year, ABC’s ironically short-lived Forever brought in an immortal medical examiner to help crack hard cases; The CW’s iZombie, returning for its sophomore run this fall, finds an undead medical resident aiding a local murder cop; and later this month, Fox will thrust the Precogs of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report into a familiar buddy-cop scenario.
So, where does NBC’s touted new drama Blindspot fit in to that mess of hard-nosed detectives and mercurial/mysterious geniuses/oddballs? Well, let’s just think of it as Bourne Memento: The Series.
Luckily, there’s a genuine appeal to the riddle at the heart of this familiar show: who is Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander)? First glimpsed crawling out of a bag left in the center of Times Square, naked and completely covered in ornate, recently applied tattoos, she has about as much of a clue as those watching at home, thanks to some unseen puppetmaster pumping her full of a nasty, amnesia-inducing chemical agent. Among Jane’s various tattoos: “Kurt Weller, FBI,” written in large text across her back.
The actual Weller (Sullivan Stapleton) is nonplussed by Jane’s sudden appearance, especially given that he’s never seen the woman before in his life. Soon, though, her subsequent interrogation and examination reveal even more pressing concerns – Jane’s other tattoos hold clues that could help Weller and his potentially duplicitous overseer (Marianna Jean-Baptiste) prevent a string of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. With that ticking time bomb newly discovered, Weller has little choice but to team up with Jane – a partnership complicated once the pair realize, in the field, that she possesses an impressive skill-set, both physical and intellectual, that suggest a background in the most elite levels of the military.
As you’ve probably figured out by this point, Blindspot is basically a gender-swapped riff on The Blacklist, one of the network’s biggest hits in years. But that shouldn’t really be a deal-breaker – after all, successful series continually inspire copycats (example: without The Office, we wouldn’t have Parks and Recreation), and when said derivatives do their job well, they can usually find vibes and strengths to call their own, given enough time on the air.
That stated, though Blindspot‘s pilot was the only episode made available to press prior to broadcast, it’s still an incredibly tight, well-crafted hour of television, fast-paced enough to sell the ludicrous hook but trusting enough of its actors, particularly Alexander, to let them flex some dramatic muscle. The actress nails the essential contradiction of Jane, the blend of terrified vulnerability and concealed lethality that makes her at once relatable and more than a little scary. She’s the main reason to watch Blindspot.
Stapleton, fresh off a similar action-hero role in Cinemax’s Strike Back, doesn’t make as much of an impression, bringing brusque efficiency but little by way of depth to what was undeniably a bit of a cliched role to begin with, but perhaps additional episodes will give him a chance to set Weller apart from the rest of TV’s chiseled, cool-as-a-cucumber action heroes. Behind the camera, the pilot also impresses with some blockbuster-level action and cinematography – the action setpieces are unusually creative and well-executed for a major network series.
While its pilot is a success, it’s a little more unclear how Blindspot will function as a week-to-week series is a little less unclear. The series is laden with conspiracy subplots and a central mystery that the writers will doubtless unspool over the course of as many seasons as they get, and it employs an overly familiar cast of characters to make that mystique a little more palatable to general audiences. Whether the show will swing more toward its procedural or serial elements will likely decide whether or not audiences stick around, though.
In a TV landscape already flooded with “innovative” spins on the cop procedural genre (and getting even more barraged by similarly cliche-stuffed newcomers this fall), NBC will be hard-pressed to make viewers continue to care about an impromptu detective with mysterious tattoos if their origins, and hers, are teased out for too long. At the moment, NBC’s real blindspot involves being able to keep ambitious, creative and interesting serials on the air for more than one season. With Blindspot, it has a chance to correct that – so long as the series follows its more interesting plot threads and doesn’t fall back on the army of buddy-cop tropes its pilot (dismayingly) suggests is already waiting in the wings.
Alexander is the main reason to check out Blindspot - she nails the essential contradiction of her amnesiac badass heroine, shifting between fear and ferocity with impressive ease, and watching her uncover the mysteries of her past could shape up to be one of this fall's more interesting dramatic arcs.