One episode was provided prior to broadcast.
In 2015, it would be surprising (to say the least) to hear anyone extol NBC as a bastion of creative thinking – but even if its latest dramas are a little generic, action-thriller series The Player feels insultingly recycled. Haphazardly cobbled together from the scraps of infinitely better series, this supposedly high-octane product lacks just about everything you might want from a fall TV viewing selection. An engaging plot? Nope. Enjoyable characters? Zero. Innovative action? Ha.
Instead, what The Player has to offer is hurried, half-rate gunplay, stiff characters played by already less-than-likable actors and a central premise lifted shamelessly from a show that’s still on the air (CBS’ Person of Interest, which is already being encroached upon by Fox’s Minority Report and NBC’s Blindspot – though you could make the argument all of them are doing a pretty shitty job of ripping off the original Minority Report as is). This all adds up to a wholly ineffective and unoriginal pilot, one that should only serve to make you wonder just how bad the series NBC didn’t greenlight must have been for something this processed to get on the air.
Strike Back‘s Philip Winchester (that show’s other lead is having better luck with a starring vehicle in Blindspot) stars as Alex Kane, a security consultant whose job essentially involves crashing through glass windows at high speeds in the name of keeping all of his high-profile clients safe from dastardly, gun-toting terrorists (please don’t question it). Alex isn’t really Alex when he’s not waving a pistol around or generally doing kick-ass things (all that’s missing is a “Fuck Yeah America” v-neck), which makes things hard for the woman in his life (Daisy Betts), who previously tamed him down from being an unhinged fighter to an employable one.
Through a series of unnecessarily convoluted events, Alex finds himself holding said woman’s dead body and suspected of the crime. No sooner than is he seemingly out of options, he’s spirited away by a woman both impossibly knowledgeable and frustratingly British (because of course), who gets the police off his back and puts him in front of the mysterious Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes, who’ll doubtless be responsible for the majority of eyes coming to rest on The Player). Mr. Johnson, it turns out, is part of some shady syndicate of super-rich individuals, who’ve figured out how to – wait for it – predict crimes. “But predicting crime is impossible,” comes Alex’s obligatory rebuke. “Good, Alex. You’ll have to believe in the impossible,” the inscrutable British lady responds, inscrutably. Or something to that effect. It’s really hard not to zone out during this show.
Mr. Johnson wants Alex to be his player, working to prevent crimes from happening so that he can bet on whether or not those efforts will be successful. It doesn’t make much sense, but somehow Johnson’s group of wealthy gamblers is powerful enough to get police choppers called off and murder suspects off the hook, and all Alex knows is that working with these people might get him closer to the person(s) responsible for his lady love’s demise. All this exposition is as pointless as it sounds, because the real intended audience of The Player just wants to see Alex engage in all manner of breakneck car chases, shootouts and fisticuffs, accepting his role as a video-game action-hero with slightly more realistic facial expressions.
Now, there’s a way to pull off a series that’s fueled entirely by action – just look at Strike Back, which essentially gave viewers a medium-to-high-quality action mini-movie week after week. The sequences were brutal, visceral and sometimes jarringly realistic. But The Player has none of Strike Back‘s grit or hard-won machismo. It’s strangely neutered and (outside of one weirdly misplaced moment involving a large knife and one poor sap’s hand) family-friendly, complete with entirely predictable scenes of Alex crashing through obstacle after obstacle, dodging bullet after bullet, that won’t raise your pulse a fraction. Good action shows are more than just a hunky guy with a gun running around shooting at everything that moves – they have moderately sensible setups, interesting plots or at the very least believable characters. The Player knows this, and yet it persists in being little more than loud, limp nonsense.
The Player‘s biggest offense may be how little it makes you feel. Everything on the screen has been played out, ad nauseam, in other series – we’ve seen dozens of brooding-hero-with-a-dead-wife narratives and omniscient-organization-secretly-saving-the-world backdrops in the past few years alone, but it’s entirely possible that none of those other shows have left as bland a taste in the mouth as this one. Snipes is saddled with a dully sphinx-like antihero role, Winchester can’t do much more than furrow his brow convincingly and when even the action itself can’t perform, the real question is this: why would anyone stick around for another round of The Player‘s unusually tiresome game?
It's not uncommon to see a series recycled from the parts of far better ones, but it's exceedingly rare to find one that does as little with those parts as The Player.