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NBC's 'Crisis' Takes Familiar Path to New Place
March 15, 2014  | By David Bianculli

The latest batch of novelistic suspense series, from Fox’s Following to CBS’s Hostages, quickly sank into either excess or absurdity. NBC’s new Crisis, though, shows real promise…

Crisis, premiering Sunday night at 10 ET, starts out with an exciting premise worthy of the kickoff of a new season of Fox’s 24, which Crisis partly resembles, at least in terms of urgency. A busload of privileged kids on a private-school field trip from Washington, DC to New York – a gaggle of pampered teens that includes the son of the President – is kidnapped by forces with an initially unknown agenda and leader.

Instead of one Jack Bauer on their tail relentlessly, Crisis has two, working initially from different directions. One, Marcus Finley, is a secret service agent who survived the attack on the kids, but was unable to thwart the bold daylight kidnapping. He’s determined to find and rescue them, and so is a young FBI agent named Susie Dunn, who’s assigned to the case specifically because her older sister, Meg Fitch, is one of the powerful parents of the missing children.

That sister is played by Gillian Anderson of The X-Files, who, even more so than in the series that made her a star, demands attention here, just as she has in the costume-drama imports Bleak House and Great Expectations, and in NBC’s Hannibal. Clearly, she has issues – as does sister Susie, played by Rachael Taylor. Susie is estranged from her sister, and struggles to prove herself, and her worth, to her. Similarly, Marcus, played by Lance Gross, must prove himself to Susie, because she thinks he may be in on the kidnapping plot.

Homeland proved that a TV series could carry two main viewpoints, and characters with very different agendas, simultaneously. Crisis, created by Rand Ravich, looks to be going for three, with Taylor’s Susie, Gross’ Marcus and Anderson’s Meg all acting as co-leads. And there’s a fourth lead, too: Dermot Mulroney (right), playing Thomas Gibson, who was aboard the ill-fated bus as a parent chaperone.

And it’s the acting, and the casting of those actors, that’s pivotal here. Anderson, no question, can carry whatever load she’s handed. So can Mulroney, who’s in his first TV series lead here, but has done strong supporting work, in movies and TV, for decades, starting with his breakout role in 1987’s HBO baseball telemovie, Long Gone. (It was a great forgotten little classic, starring William L. Petersen and Virginia Madsen.)

But the other two leads, Rachael Taylor and Lance Gross, have a lot more to prove. His biggest role to date is as Calvin in House of Payne, and her biggest starring roles were in two flashy, quick-to-flop series: last season’s 666 Park Avenue and the 2011 Charlie’s Angels reboot.

The good news is, the relative newbies hold their own with the veteran pros. The better news is, Ravich’s structure and plot for Crisis has it offering so many true surprises and interesting character developments, it’s bound to shock you several times in the opening hour alone. Plus, it pays a lot of attention to the teen captives, too, and to their respective fears, love interests, and self-involved concerns.

Ravich’s last drama series was NBC’s Life, a criminally underrated show about a former cop wrongly imprisoned for life, until he’s set free after a decade in captivity. That series demonstrated Ravich’s flair for plot twists, for giving meaty scenes to supporting players, and to an exceptional eye for casting. That show starred Damien Lewis, before he was captured and freed again in Homeland, and Sarah Shahi, before she moved on to Person of Interest.

Many of the continuing-plot dramas of late, whether the too-gory The Following or the too-convoluted Once Upon a Time series, have started with promise, but broken that promise early. But NBC’s The Blacklist is, at this point, holding solid – and I suspect Crisis will, too.

This show’s teen kidnapping plot is designed as a 13-week one-season story – and with enough focus on enough characters, and a continuing supply of genuine surprises, I suspect its momentum will stay strong until the end.

To hear my NPR review of Crisis, visit the Fresh Air with Terry Gross website.
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