As of late, TV networks across the country resemble the last five minutes of an Oprah anniversary show more than a boardroom. TV executives are tossing out pilots to established TV and film stars like new cars. “Matthew McConaughey, you get a mini-series!” “Halle Berry, you get a network pilot!” “Clive Owen, you get Steven Soderbergh!”
At first it looked as though Sean Bean had his Oprah “you get a car” moment with Game of Thrones. Of course, FOUR YEAR OLD SPOILER ALERT BUT SERIOUSLY HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW THIS ALREADY, that did not last a full season as Ned Stark kept up a running tradition of dead Sean Bean characters by losing his head. Now TNT has swooped in and “rescued” Sean Bean with another pilot to call his own, in Legends. Only the difference between Game of Thrones and Legends after one episode is the difference between Oprah handing out a Maserati and Oprah handing out a 1998 Nissan Altima.
Legends comes with an interesting pedigree at least. Executive producer Howard Gordon is partially responsible for espionage hits 24 and Homeland. Plus showrunners Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Mark Bomback have a relatively impressive Hollywood resume. And aside from Sean Bean for star power, the show features Ali Larter, who as ridiculous as it may sound now, looked like she was going to be one of television’s biggest starts for a brief time during Heroes’ first season.
But even with that firepower behind the scenes, and the fairly interesting concept of am FBI agent who specializes in adopting new undercover personas, it’s clear that the show was built primarily to showcase Sean Bean’s talents.
In that regard, the show is a modest success. Bean at first is a bizarre choice to play a modern American spy, having existed in the cultural consciousness as a sword-swinging Brit for the past decade. But Bean proves up for the job, with the added onscreen footnote to explain away his noticeable accent*
*It’s not entirely clear why Bean needed to maintain his natural British accent as he does a good job “in character” as a legend.
Bean is Marin Odum, an FBI agent in the Deep Cover Operations Division who specializes in creating “legends” or deep undercover personas. The pilot is at its best when Odum is in character as Lincoln Dittmann (with two “n’s”) if only for the novelty of seeing Bean inhabit a character within a character. It’s not quite Tatiana Maslany-esque but it’s still a treat to see Bean’s Odum speaking lyrically about the fictional Lincoln’s life or accidentally signing a check meant for his wife as “Lincoln Dittmann.”
Unfortunately there is little else about the pilot that helps the show stand out from the pack. Everything is straight out of the “espionage serial” starter pack with no added flourishes or creativity. The FBI computer nerds consist of one nerd of indistinct Middle Eastern dissent, one nerd who’s a reasonably attractive woman with an atypical haircut and probably likes anime and one nerd who is a bit of a smooth-talking hotshot who has a distaste for loose cannon old guys. Poor Ali Larter is only allowed to be bitchy, thirsty for Odum or dressed in a stripper’s office. Let that be a lesson to us critics who complain about the ridiculous attractiveness of FBI agents in TV shows: you never know when they’ll have to dress like a stripper in a pinch.
Even the character of Martin Odum, for all of Sean Bean’s charm and skill, is just an incorrigible rogue who’s a really good guy at heart that cares about his son but his job is too important to……….sorry, I almost passed out there.
Still, the seasons comes with a potential saving grace, which is the central mystery at the center of the episode. Odum tracks down a mysterious man who has been following him and (before being stabbed to death by yet another mysterious figure) he reveals that “Martin Odum” may be just another legend. It’s an interesting concept at the very least and if we’re really lucky and Legends wants to get weird, it will turn out that Martin Odum is such a walking cliché because his legend was constructed that way.