Free yourself from Hostages

Hostages has a great premise: Force a doctor to choose between the president and her family. Will she slip him a fatal poison on the operating table or will she risk her family being killed and let him live? Or will she turn the tables and fight back against their hostage takers?

Who gives a damn. This show is unlikeable.

While most pilots come out swinging with an extended opening sequence, Hostages went for a family sitting on a couch for 38 seconds. KA-POW! No, not ka-pow. Dad looks up and sees a masked man. That’s it. To recap: A show named Hostages opened with a family being held hostage. Therein lies the problem I have with the pilot: It is simply an extended version of everything you knew if you saw the promo. It is not an introduction to what will unfold over its 15-episode season. If that’s what CBS and its writers were intending, they failed big time.

The first time we see Dr. Ellen Sanders as a doctor is in a press conference with the president. He selected her over the chief surgeon from Johns Hopkins to remove a nonmalignant mass from his lung. This is also the first time we the president whose fate Sanders will determine in the face of danger to her family. Instead of making him a character, Paul Kincaid is meaningless but for holding the title of President of the United States. Because this is television I don’t have to care about whether he lives or dies, but I was surprised and disappointed to see the show not even try to make me care.

The night before the surgery, a traitorous FBI agent leads a team of ninjas onto the Sanders’ unguarded property. As the hostage-taking unfolds we start to see cracks in their all-American family. Her husband is having an affair, her daughter is secretly pregnant and her son is dealing weed. They are not the Seavers. They are two brats, a jerk and a working mom. We have no reason to hope the crisis draws them together. Hostages needs viewers to hope the family does exactly that because, like with the anonymous president, the show’s drama relies on it. If I don’t care about the family then I don’t care if the mom kills the president or not. If I don’t care about that, then why am I even watching this show?

For the bad guys to win? FBI Special Agent Duncan Carlisle is no one special. He is just an angry husband whose wife is suffering from cancer. Is he the ringleader of a presidential assassination plot or just a pawn? At first he seems like the ringleader, but when he is revealed to be partnering with someone inside the White House that becomes less clear. I love shows that put viewers in the position of liking the bad guy. Hostages doesn’t even give us that. Carlisle is the kind of loser who in real life might get it in his mind to kill the president only to end up getting arrested on Pennsylvania Avenue.

If I don’t care about the president, or the family, or the bad guys…?

I can get behind a great story. That is the number one reason I watch any television show. But Hostages passed on illuminating any of the things that had to happen leading up to the opening scene. Why did the president insist on this doctor instead of the one his wife mentioned from Johns Hopkins? The political benefit of trusting his life to a woman? Maybe it is something more sinister. His aide, Quentin, is part of the plot, so did he intentionally steer the president in this direction. Why? We don’t know and the show never made any attempt to lay the groundwork for exploring it.

Nor do we know why they want the president dead. Killing the president is a pretty severe obsession, don’t you think? All the pilot gave us was a vague reference to Carlisle’s wife having cancer and wanting to get back to “the way things were.” You can’t skip over the motive in a show about trying to kill the president! It needed to be a major part of the pilot.

We don’t even get to see why Ellen is a great doctor. The president doesn’t just get a binder full of female surgeons to pick from when he needs surgery. Something had to make her stand out. A colleague tells Ellen she is a rockstar who was picked because she is the best, not because she is a woman. Not good enough. We need to actually see her being a great doctor. How hard would that have been? A basic doctor-performs-a-miracle scene is the staple of television staples. Hostages couldn’t even give us that much.

Throw me a bone, reel me in, give me just one hint that there is a bigger story here! I want to like it!

But I can’t. This show is arrogant. It throws you into an opening scene that lasts all of 38 seconds with characters you ultimately cannot like. It expects you to be riveted just because it wants you to be, taking for granted all the storytelling that goes into developing a compelling drama. It asks you to completely overlook the fact that a doctor about to perform surgery on the President of the United States is allowed to just waltz home the night before to a completely unguarded home. It asks you to be dumb.

The worst moment came when Carlisle and his team (who we know absolutely nothing about) took their masks off in the Sanders’ living room. The daughter panics and tells her father that they are more likely to be killed if they see the bad guys’ faces. There’s nothing better than a self-aware television show.

One thing did catch my eye. I’m not sure if it was because it was really there or I was looking so hard that my imagination went into overdrive: Does Dr. Sanders know why she was put in this situation? The way Carlisle calls her by her first name and how she completely breaks down in front of him could suggest these two knew each other before he took her family. Perhaps she was involved with his wife’s care and the whole assassination plot is his way of getting back at her? That could explain why the president received so little attention.

At the very end, does the television news crawl matter when it says, “…corporations are people. Terrorist has cooperated since clandestine guilty plea.” Ultimately, because of all the faults listed above, I just don’t care.

Good pilots surprise you. They tease you and they tantalize you. You don’t want a good pilot to end. When it does you want the next episode right now because it left you craving more. Were you on the edge of your seat when Hostages ended? I wasn’t. Nothing I saw made me want to see another 14 weeks of Doctor Ellen Sanders playing cat and mouse with Duncan Carlyle.

Finding their way after Lost

Not leaving, no. Moving on.

Where are we going?

Let’s go find out.

It’s been three years since Lost went off the air. It came along at the same time social media gave us a way to interact across the globe in real time and gave rise to what we now call second screening. The show’s sprawling mysteries and rich character development fed perfectly into these new platforms. Fans took online communities to more engaged levels than any show previously, debating theories and sharing background information on things mentioned in the latest episodes. In that way Lost was probably the first truly social television show. Its serendipitous timing helped it create some amazing bonds with its viewers.

That worked out marvelously for ABC and the show itself while it was on the air. How has it worked out for the show’s stars since May 23, 2010? Have their careers continued to grow or have they sunk like poor Michael’s raft? The answer is mixed.

Some found new lives with new characters. Michael Emerson is killing it as secretive computer genius Harold Finch on Person of Interest; Daniel Dae Kim is doing just fine on CBS’s remake of Hawaii Five-0. Emilie de Ravin floated for a while before landing on Once Upon a Time, which is led by former Lost writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis. Everyone’s favorite Scot, Henry Ian Cusick, found parts on Scandal, Fringe, The Mentalist and ABC’s recently canceled Body of Proof. Ian Somerhalder didn’t even make it to Exodus but will always be Boone, even though his star has risen on The Vampire Diaries.

Others (no pun intended) have roles in the works that could put them back on TV’s map. Naveen Andrews and Josh Holloway will be on CBS this fall. Holloway sans locks (again, no pun intended) as some kind of cyber cop in Intelligence, and Andrews opposite Stephen Lang in Reckless. Holloway improved as much as any of the actors who stayed with the show from start to finish so hopefully CBS is giving him something to work with. Andrews also has a huge role opposite Naomi Watts as Princess Diana’s lover, Dr. Hasnat Khan, in Diana, which will be released later this year.

Yunjin Kim, who doesn’t do much American work, co-stars with Alyssa Milano in ABC’s upcoming summer drama Mistresses. It’s hard to come to any conclusions about her post-Lost career because I simply don’t pay much attention to Korean entertainment.

A couple fan favorites landed roles on new shows that never made it beyond infancy. Jorge Garcia had a role in FOX’s Alcatraz in addition to three appearances on a Matthew Perry show you’ve never heard of. Terry O’Quinn starred in the short-lived 666 Park Avenue after appearing in 11 episodes of Hawaii Five-0 with Daniel Dae Kim. Elizabeth Mitchell did V and now co-stars in Revolution. Dominic Monaghan’s post-Lost career still hasn’t taken off after Flash Forward was unfairly canceled.

Matthew Fox tried his hand at a movie before Lost was even over. Since The End his most notable work has been the freakish way he transformed his body for the Alex Cross movie, not his role opposite Tommy Lee Jones in some World War II movie. He’s also in World War Z, a zombie movie. Yikes.

Evangeline Lilly is a face for L’Oreal Paris but her only acting work has been in The Hobbit, which she began just three months after giving birth.

This is surprising and probably disappointing to a lot of us who still want to see our favorite stars every week. I think the way we expect actors to move from one successful show right into another ignores how difficult it is to find success in Hollywood. Networks just finished announcing their fall lineups full of new shows that will most likely fail or sputter for a season or two before being put to sleep. Few will make it beyond that and fewer still will become legitimate hits. To expect this handful of actors to be in those few shows is asking lightning to strike twice.

I also have to wonder how much their strong identification with one character might hurt them. O’Quinn did well on 666 Park but will we ever see him as anyone other than John Locke? To his credit, Michael Emerson plays his character so well on Person of Interest that I rarely think of Ben Linus. (Much of that is probably due to his character’s limp.) It’s a sort of catastrophic success unique to Hollywood: Being so good at your job that no one can forget it. Time will tell if Josh Holloway can make us forget Sawyer or if Evangeline Lilly’s freckles will always make us think of Kate.

As Lost’s stars find new roles, on television or the big screen, they will find a dedicated portion of their new viewers who look quite familiar, thinking back and smiling at the show they shared together, with a simple message:

We’ve been waiting for you.

Profiler: Before its time?

It must have been a strange feeling for Robert Davi when he made a guest appearance on the CBS crime drama Criminal Minds. Davi played the role of Detective Eric Kurz in the final episode of season five and the premiere of season six. It was only 10 years earlier that he closed the book on Agent Bailey Malone.

Agent Malone was Aaron Hotchner before there was Aaron Hotchner, just like Malone’s show Profiler was Criminal Minds before there was Criminal Minds. Starting in 1997, Profiler ran for four seasons on NBC’s Saturday night schedule. It followed the story of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Task Force and Dr. Samantha Waters, its profiler (Ally Walker). Malone, Detective John Grant (Nip/Tuck’s Julian McMahon), George Fraley (Peter Frechette) and Dr. Grace Alvarez (Roma Maffia) followed Waters’ profiling instinct across the country to track and stop violent killers.

The VCTF had its stern leader in Malone, detective muscle in Grant and even CBS’ patented computer wiz in Fraley. Dr. Alvarez filled the forensics role. Sound familiar? They were Hotchner’s Behavioral Analysis Unit by a different name. Each member of Profiler’s team kept its duties more specialized than Hotchner’s BAU where all the characters seem almost equally adept at all the skills they need to track their “unsubs.”

Profiler’s story had an additional serial element that Criminal Minds mostly avoids. Its week-to-week stories took place on top of Dr. Waters’ personal life marked by an extreme tragedy: The death of her husband at the hands of a serial killer known only as “Jack.” Sam is haunted by the continual torture-hold Jack keeps her in as he weaves in and out of the show’s first three seasons until the VCTF ultimately apprehends him. It would be as if Foyet haunted Hotch for the entirety of Minds. Walker then left the show and it floundered quickly, lasting only one more season. Interestingly enough, Walker’s replacement was played by Madison Riley, who had a guest appearance on Criminal Minds in 2013.

Had it aired today, Profiler may have enjoyed a more successful fate. Broadcast television is a different place now than it was in the late 1990s. A look at last season’s top ratings compared to those of 1997 shows how much things have changed.

2011-12 Total Viewership

  1. NCIS 19.2 million
  2. American Idol (Wed) 17.7 million
  3. Dancing with the Stars (fall perf) 17.6 million
  4. Dancing with the Stars (spring perf) 17 million
  5. American Idol (Thurs) 16.6 million
  6. NCIS: Los Angeles 15.5 million
  7. Dancing with the Stars (fall results) 15.4 million
  8. The Big Bang Theory 14.9 million
  9. Dancing with the Stars (spring results) 14.7 million
  10. Two and a Half Men 14.6 million

See the rest.

Now the top broadcast shows of the 1996-97 television season

  1. ER 20.6 million
  2. Seinfeld 19.9 million
  3. Suddenly Susan 16.5 million
  4. Friends 16.3 million
  5. The Naked Truth 16.3 million
  6. Fired Up 16.6 million
  7. Monday Night Football 15.5 million
  8. The Single Guy 13.7 million
  9. Home Improvement 13.6 million
  10. Touched by an Angel 12.9 million

See the next 20 here.

Most glaringly, six of last year’s top shows were of the reality genre, which didn’t exist in  1997. Sitcoms accounted for similar bulk in 1997 taking up 70 percent of the list.

How would Profiler have ranked? Its 1996-97 viewership of 7.4 million put it 82nd. The same viewership last year would have vaulted it 30 spots higher, near the likes of Glee, House, Revenge and Scandal – all of which survived. Nearby shows like Terra Nova, NYC 22 and Missing weren’t so lucky. Following seasons saw Profiler jump to 9-10 million viewers, on par with Undercover Boss, How I Met Your Mother, Greys Anatomy, CSI: NY and The Amazing Race. Those shows survive easily.

Criminal Minds is a more mature show than Profiler. That could be due to CBS having perfected the criminal drama format. It turns out these shows like suburban model homes,  and that’s not a knock on the shows or suburban model homes. Okay maybe a little bit. This Business Insider piece from two years ago explains how they do it (even though it was prompted by a Minds spinoff that didn’t last the season). Each show benefits from the others’ successes, and Profiler never had that benefit on the NBC of the late 1990s. Not to say it would have lasted longer if it had, just that it existed on more of an island than Criminal Minds does today.

Even with that help, I don’t think Criminal Minds is perfect. Minds is set up in a way that removes as much of a viewer’s need to think as it possibly can. Dr. Spencer Reid does most of the hand holding as the team member with an eidetic memory – basically he knows everything. That’s awfully convenient. Every development in the show is revealed through dialogue, usually as a series of questions, discussions and realizations by the BAU team. Very little is actually shown. You can close your eyes and listen to it for an entire episode without missing much of anything. Profiler was more artful than that. I’d love to see a breakdown between the average amount of time in each show without dialogue. My bet would be Profiler comes out on top. And that’s why it’s my favourite of the two. It could also be why it didn’t last half as long as Minds.

Davi appeared in two of what I think are Criminal Minds’ darkest episodes as a serial killer murdered families and left only one survivor to remember the horrors. As he looked around the set, I wonder if Davi saw Profiler as a show that came before its time?