TV Review: HUMAN TARGET, 2.1 - "Ilsa Pucci"

Last year, Human Target was a curious misfire. Blessed with three strong lead actors (Mark Valley, Chi McBride, Jackie Earle Haley), the best action sequences on television, a lucid premise accessible to newcomers, and a procession of celebrity guest-stars (often very attractive women), it refused to come together. Many reasons have been suggested for why it didn't connect with a bigger audience, and writer-producer Matt Miller (formerly of Chuck) has been drafted in to solve the problem... For the uninitiated, Christopher Chance (Valley) is the world's greatest bodyguard/security expert; a man with a shadowy history working for a villainous cabal, who started to freelance his services following a personal tragedy that shifted his loyalty. His handler is crotchety ex-cop Winston (McBride), and they both receive regular help from cadaverous , mustachioed techspert Guerrero (Haley). There's not much else to say, as every week Chance is hired protect them from harm, which usually comes in the form of trained assassins or saboteurs. It was rinse-repeat fare most weeks; but with a fast pace, chemistry between the leads, high-octane stunts, and attractive guest-stars, it was essentially a likeable throwback to action-adventure shows of the 1980s. And considering how those unashamedly macho '80s shows are back in vogue at the cinema (The A-Team, The Losers, The Expendables), it's a shame people aren't as quick to grab a weekly dose of such fun on television. Matt Miller, who worked on Chuck for the past three seasons (a show with its own '80s inspirations), grabs hold of Human Target in this season 2 premiere and quickly shakes his own flavours into its DNA. In a swift five minutes, the cliffhanger ending of season 1 is resolved (with the kidnapped Winston rescued by Chance and Guerrero in a bank), leading us straight into a Rambo III. Six months later, Chance has retired from work, deciding to spend his time meditating with Buddhist monks in Nepal, until billionaire widow Ilsa Pucci (Indira Varma) touches down in a chopper, having scoured the planet to find him, and duly requests Chance's help protecting her from enemies of her late-husband. It's not long before Chance is reunited with pals Winston and Guerrero, who form a triangular shield around Ilsa during a glamorous function intended to draw her enemies out into the open. Needless to say, Ilsa makes the stupid mistake of not trusting Chance's instincts, and winds up getting herself kidnapped, then whisked to a Swiss bank to withdraw her fortune... This premiere wasn't a huge ground shift, if you were expecting a radical overhaul. Miller's wisely given the gang a multi-billionaire benefactor (to bankroll the use of jets, cars and other toys), but more importantly she's a shot of estrogen in this overly masculine series. Additionally, a talented thief called Ames (Janet Montgomery) becomes entangled in the mission, later becoming a part of the team. Given her beauty, she'll no doubt be on hand to use her sexuality to aide the gang, but hopefully the writers will also use her in less clichéd ways, too. Whatever happens, the inclusion of two strong women is an obvious but welcome change to Human Target's dynamic, and one that will hopefully prove successful in the long run. The other changes are more cosmetic and probably won't draw the attention of casual viewers; but, composer Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica) has been replaced by Tim Jones (Chuck), apparently because Miller prefers a soundtrack-heavy score over an orchestral composition. The result is a less "cinematic" aural experience, which is a shame, although there's occasionally more fun and personality when a pop song's used to enhance a sequence. I'm reserving judgment for now, although it's obvious the excellent inkblot opening titles don't click with Jones's reimagining of the theme tune. Did this premiere relaunch the series in fine style? No, but it felt like an encouraging baby-step. Miller's storyline was as light and breezy as those he wrote for Chuck, which suited the fact this episode had other things on its agenda, but still meant it was very pedestrian. I hope the stories don't continue to be as thin, as that style suits a lighthearted spy-comedy like Chuck, but won€™t wash with a grittier show like Human Target. But I think the biggest letdown with "Ilsa Pucci" was the lack of a truly exciting and visually stimulating action sequence, which the show was crammed with last year. A clichéd leaping-through-a-glass-window shot was about as inventive as things got, and it was achieved well (despite what looked like CGI shards of glass). I also think someone should have a quiet word to Mark Valley about lightening up, because this show could do with a more laidback lead who plays things with less of a clenched jaw. It's obviously too late to recast, but imagine if someone like Lost's Josh Holloway was playing this character... Overall, it's too early to say if Human Target's going to build on its existing audience, but the changes made here are mostly logical and haven't spoiled what came before. If it can expand the Chance/Winston/Guerrero chemistry to encompass Ilsa and Ames, give Chance some different notes to play, ensure the plots are clever, and build a serialized aspect into occasional episodes, Human Target will hopefully entice more eyeballs its way. If not, enjoy it while you still have the chance.
WRITER: Matt Miller DIRECTOR: Steve Boyum CAST: Mark Valley, Chi McBride, Jackie Earle Haley, Indira Varma, Janet Montgomery & Tahmoeh Penikett TRANSMISSION: 17 November 2010, Fox, 8/7c
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