Since HBO has set the bar for original programming and Showtime has followed suit, it is no wonder that Cinemax is now throwing their hat into the ring. After watching their newest show Banshee I was left scratching my head wondering precisely what kind of show I was watching. The pedigree is there, as the show’s Executive Producer is Alan Ball of Six Feet Under and True Blood fame, but the show feels like it is completely out of place in a sea of mid-season replacement programming. I have tried to analyze the plot and overall feel of the series over the past few days trying, to come up with an accurate description of what exactly Banshee is all about. With so many different storylines throughout the first hour of the series it became muddled as to what exactly they are going for in this new series which has a 10-episode order. While I give Banshee points for its pulpy graphic novel feel with no real consequences for any criminal behavior, I will need to see more of a sample before making an informed overall review of the series. For now, here is the Banshee pilot in a nutshell that actually does a decent job of covering a broad collection of seedy characters.
The show begins simply enough with a convict being released from prison after a 15-year stretch. Seemingly within minutes of being released from prison with just the clothes on his back the ex-con with no name (Played by Kiwi Antony Starr) grabs a drink, gets laid and steals a car to drive into Manhattan. Already my head was swimming thinking “what?” His next stop is visiting some type of transsexual salon in NYC where an old associate who happens to be a computer whiz works as a stylist. They obviously have some type of criminal history together and we learn later he/she specializes in forged documents, false ID’s and credit cards. But now The Con just needs a location that his former associate gives up after The Con starts trashing the place. The Con leaves the salon and notices that he is already being tailed by your typical, boilerplate, TV gangsters. He then drives deep into Pennsylvania Dutch territory presumably to hide out from the man he stole from all of those years ago, the ominous “Mr. Rabbit.” Confused yet?
Upon arriving in PA we learn that the Con’s lost love and co-conspirator in the diamond heist he was put away for is now living the family life. Playing Anna, who is now Carrie Hopewell, the thief-gone-straight who didn’t get caught is the ridiculously sexy Ivana Milicevic. Anna now Carrie is our “hero(?)’s” former business partner/lover and is now married, with two kids, to a prominent local DA . On a surprise visit to his former love there is obviously something still there but Carrie’s surprise at seeing The Con is genuine. There is some confusion as to whether the diamonds they stole all of those years ago are stashed somewhere, but Carrie né Anna is eager to have The Con leave her to her new life. There is also some type of question as to whether Carrie’s daughter is actually The Con’s offspring and not her new respectable husband’s child.
While at the desolate local tavern, chewing the fat with the bartender and former cruiserweight fighter Sugar Bates (the always wonderful character actor Frankie Faison), The Con finds a kindred spirit in the former pugilist who knows right away that this character just got done doing a stretch. The town of Banshee, PA is in complete disarray and after the sudden death of their Sheriff from cancer they are expecting a brand new lawman from the Pacific Northwest. The soon to be named Sheriff by the name of Lucas Hood has stopped in to the dive for a steak after his long cross-country drive and seems nice enough to The Con and Sugar. When some of the local toughs come in looking for trouble, extorting money, a standoff between Sheriff Hood and the two men ends in three dead bodies; including the not sworn in yet Sheriff Hood. The Con has a light bulb idea. The Sheriff died without having met the Mayor who hired him, thereby leaving a vacancy for that position. The Con becomes Lucas Hood. Easy Peasy.
Having this new identity opens a whole new life for Hood. It will now give him a chance to find out what really happened to the diamonds from the heist (Carrie claims that she was robbed of the booty while trying to fence the goods). Plus his new post can help him lay low from Mr. Rabbit. After being sworn in as the new Sheriff, Hood learns that the town is run by Amish crime lord (never thought I’d write that phrase) Kai Proctor. He is a ruthless businessman who has his hand in everything that goes on in Banshee, PA. Apparently Proctor grew up Amish but strayed from the strict life. Although, after beating a co-worker at his meat factory and returning home he forces a woman of the oldest profession to wear a bonnet while performing oral sex. I guess giving up the Amish life is not as easy as we thought; bonnets never go out of style.
While we are introduced to Mr. Rabbit and some of his boring cliché hit men, who seem to fail every time, he is just not that intimidating a villain. Proctor easily outshines him as the worse baddie of the two. While some of the action sequences are well put together, scenes like the extreme car chase were right out of a Bruckheimer production but felt forced and out of place in this type of show. I understand what they were going for in Banshee, but you cannot push everything and everyone into an introductory pilot episode. While the idea of an ex-con assuming the identity of a now deceased Sheriff sounds like an interesting premise, it is barely plausible in today’s age of information. Hiring a Sheriff from Oregon without knowing what the guy looks like? I understand suspension of disbelief, but come on! The sex scenes are gratuitous and lend nothing to the story except that it comes with the territory from an Alan Ball produced series. The crime elements of the series are my primary concern and I think that the whole Amish connection and a small town crime-lord running the hamlet has potential in a Road House or Walking Tall type of way. Still, for a pilot there was just way too much crammed into one episode. I am hoping that some more realistic elements of the show are introduced to the show before it gets pulled from the Cinemax lineup.
For now Banshee needs to decide what kind of show it wants to be.