Some new TV shows arrive on a wave of hype. Earlier this year, The Following debuted amid a furore of coming from the writer of Scream and starring, erm, Kevin Bacon. In a few weeks, Joss Whedon’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will premiere – a new show where even seconds worth of footage merit a news story. Then there are those shows which creep in, near unnoticed but as word of mouth begins to spread about just how special they are, viewership begins to grow.
This is the position that True Blood producer Alan Ball’s new show Banshee now finds itself in as its first season arrives on home release. Here in the UK, Banshee went out on a Monday night, following Game of Thrones for most of its run. This probably wasn’t the wisest piece of scheduling – an audience hooked on the latest developments in Westeros probably wasn’t in the mood to immediately leap into another hour of high-tension, all-encompassing television. Over the last couple of months though, folk have been discovering Banshee, often with great excitement and a compulsion to devour all ten episodes of the first season as quickly as possible, which is why the arrival of this set is so welcome. Banshee is a show where you cannot wait to find out what happens next. It’s “Just one more episode and then I really will go to bed” television.
Banshee draws its influences from far and wide. It’s a modern take on the Spaghetti Western as the season begins with an unnamed convict being released from prison. After a spot of Grand Theft Auto-style carnage on the streets of New York City, he departs to track down his former flame, Ana, in the small Pennsylvania town of Banshee, only to find she’s married with children and going by the name of Carrie Hopewell. An altercation with some men working forBanshee’s Mr Big – Kyle Proctor – in a bar on the way out of town results in the death of incoming new Sheriff Lucas Hood, an identity our ex-con now assumes for his own ends. What begins as a selfishly driven hoodwink evolves into a growing connection for the new Lucas Hood and the town and people who turn to him to sort out their troubles. All the while the spectre of his and Carrie’s former life hangs over them, with the past constantly threatening to ruin everything.
As well as the obvious ‘stranger strolling into town to take care of trouble’, Western influence, Banshee draws its strength from the world of comic books and video games. People have commented that the show often resembles Vertigo comics with its unflinching portrayal of violence. While Banshee doesn’t exist in the kind of fantasy world of a show such as Game of Thrones, it doesn’t wholly exist in reality either. The fight scenes throughout the first season are often brutal, bloody and utterly thrilling. Lucas Hood puts the viewer in mind of Wolverine on more than one occasion, while most who have seen the show will agree that a particular bout of fisticuffs that happens during eighth episode, We Shall Live Forever is like no other confrontation you’re likely to see this year.
Banshee is a programme which pulls no punches when it comes to its adult content. Along with the comic book and video game-style rumbles, there’s a hefty dose of ‘getting jiggy with it’, but not just for the sake of having it in the show. At its heart, Banshee is a character-driven show, and whether these people are coming to blows or, erm, just coming, it’s always there to reflect a character’s emotional state at that time, usually in relation to one of the other inhabitants of this town.
The cast making up this dysfunctional bunch include Anthony Starr as Sheriff Lucas Hood. Starr manages to convey a wildly ranging character, which can go from grumpy and sullen to wide eyed maniac in a matter of moments. Throughout the season the character goes through a re-emergence of his previous, kindly nature, something that fifteen years in prison had driven from him. Again, we are shown why. Although Banshee is packed with strong characters and performances (Trieste Kelly Dunn’s Deputy Siobhan Kelly excels during episode five, while Lili Simmons’ Rebecca Bowman is a character who goes through one of the show’s biggest changes over the ten episodes), there are really two others that stand out alongside Anthony Starr.
Ulrich Thomsen as Kai Proctor presents television with a cold but calculatingly intelligent villain. His dance of wills with Lucas Hood during the first half of the season is a great see-saw to watch. The defining Kai Proctor moment surely occurs during episode eight when he delivers a threatening monologue to his estranged Amish family. There’s no shortage of great dialogue in writers Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler’s scripts. They are jammed with lines that drip with cool, but this diatribe from Kai Proctor is one of the script and show’s finest moments.
Former Bond girl, Ivana Milicevic makes up the show’s power three as Carrie/Ana Hopewell. She turns in a brave performance as Ana is a tremendously physical character in many respects but also one being torn apart inside by an internal conflict. Having escaped her former life to a place she thought safe, the walls of that security come rapidly tumbling down when Hood appears in town. If you think that Ana/Carrie is going to be the show’s meek love interest, you couldn’t be more wrong. The fight that everyone talks about from episode eight – she’s in it!
While most members of Banshee’s cast are worthy of mentioning, it’d be a crime to write a season review and not mention Hoon Lee’s Job and Frankie Faison’s Sugar Bates. Hood’s right hand men, the two markedly different characters bring a nice touch of humour to Banshee with their harshly toned banter. Job is a highlight of the show for many viewers. Also, a quick mention for Ryann Shane’s Deva Hopewell, Carrie’s teenage daughter who somehow manages to get into more dangerous situations than 24’s Kim Bauer. Shane, for a young actress in a very much adult show, doesn’t ever seem out of her depth.
It’s good to see that Banshee’s audience is growing and that its following is becoming as passionate about it as those who chomp at the bit for the latest episode of Breaking Bad. The show is a not so subtle blend of comic book violence, larger than life anti-heroes and the complex and twisted web they find themselves in within this town’s limits. As first seasons go, it’s hard to think of one which has recently delivered such consistent quality across its episodes. Episode six is perhaps the only weak spot here, but that’s only because it doesn’t feel to contain quite as much action as the rest.
If you’ve yet to discover Banshee and you like your television fast and thrilling then stop punishing yourself and wait no longer. It’s a crazy ride that is hopefully just getting going.
Banshee season one is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on Monday the 2nd of September in the UK.
Read James’ spoiler-filled Banshee episode reviews, here.
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