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Put NBC's 'Blacklist' On Your Watchlist
September 22, 2013  | By David Bianculli  | 2 comments

Very little about the premise of NBC’s Blacklist, which has a canny career criminal ominously advising a young female profiler, is original – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good.  Because it is…

The two key stock ingredients in this new NBC drama series, which premieres Monday night at 10 ET, come straight from Silence of the Lambs (most-wanted villain guides and manipulates and challenges spunky woman FBI agent) and Alias (beautiful young spy has looks and skills to kill, and a mysterious past, just like the loved ones around her). You hear the overall idea – each week, the bad guy works with his good-girl “protégé” to apprehend other global villains – and the first impulse is to yawn. Especially since NBC already has Hannibal, a sleepy prequel with a similar pedigree.


Except The Blacklist stars, as the central, inscrutable “bad guy,” James Spader, who plays the role of Raymond “Red” Reddington as part bully, part Mensa showoff, part Jedi master, and part Cheshire cat. It’s a lot to ask of an actor to take on a role so similar to that for which Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar, much less to make it his own, but Spader does both.

The Blacklist creator Joe Bokenkamp has handed Spader the first TV series in which the actor gets to join, and shape, from the start. The former movie star originally shifted to TV as part of a one-season reboot of ABC’s The Practice, which, with his boldly original character of attorney Alan Shore in tow, morphed into the equally unusual Boston Legal. After that, Spader appeared for one season on another series which, like The Practice, was maneuvering to keep going despite the absence of its central star: NBC’s The Office, which lost Steve Carell only to have Spader step in, temporarily, as gonzo boss Robert California.

For The Blacklist, though, Spader is starting with a new show, from scratch. And from the opening scene (shown at top), when his most-wanted-fugitive Red walks into the FBI headquarters and surrenders, he not only owns it. He makes us want to buy it, too.

That his co-star, Megan Boone, is such a relatively fresh face and unknown factor, is another plus (if you know her at all, it’s probably from playing the deputy district attorney on the short-lived Law & Order: LA, but that’s not very likely). In Monday’s premiere episode, they meet in a way that seems cruelly unfair. Even though he’s sequestered behind the most escape-proof set-up a maximum-security facility can rig up, when she enters the same space, it’s as though she’s literally walking into the lion’s den, and could be swallowed whole in one bite, with Spader’s confident, charismatic, sinister schemer licking his chops.

But Boone, as she proves even before the initial hour is up, has some solid acting chops of her own. It’s one reason The Blacklist works. Boone’s character of new FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen has secrets of her own – and it’s clear that she, like Red, is not to be underestimated or easily dismissed.

Also arguing against instant dismissal of this new series: In the first episode, a lot of money and effort is spent to make the action sequences riveting and impressively staged. That sort of money will vanish soon enough, but it’s a good grabber with which to start the show, and propels the narrative so that the real red meat, Red’s one-on-one verbal duels with Elizabeth, arrives right on time, and with the right amount of spice.

All that’s missing, for now, are soma fava beans and a nice chianti…

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What a GREAT story with such surprising twists and turns. James Spader is phenomenal in his role. I'm VERY impressed and look forward to each episode. Pretty amazing for me to look forward to an episode of TV.
Nov 30, 2013   |  Reply
caught Sep 23's episode. set the dvr for next week's episode. liked spader. **** spoiler alert ******* intrigued by keen's discovery at show's end of the items in the floor underneath the carpet....................... probably more intriguing than the action leading up to keen's discovery........
Sep 25, 2013   |  Reply
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