Those who tune in to Ransom on CBS on January 1st will immediately recognize the formula. An over-eager recruit imposes herself on an expert team of hostage negotiators, and the audience watches through her eyes as the suave but brazen team leader averts a crisis and gives the newbie a chance. It’s a tried and true opener for crime shows as varied as CBS’s own NCIS or Fox’s Lie to Me, and although it’s equally effective in this series opener, the show will need a hook to get viewers invested in this new team.
Ransom’s purported hook is that it’s based on the real-life professional experiences of renowned crisis negotiator Laurent Combalbert and his partner, Marwan Mery, but is that enough? Or perhaps followers of Luke Roberts from Black Sails will be anxious to see his swarthy good looks in this lead role as Eric Beaumont, the head of a private firm called Crisis Resolution. Or maybe Penny Dreadful fans will enjoy seeing Sarah Greene as the intrepid novice, Maxine Carlson.
Whatever brings viewers to Ransom initially, the premiere episode offers a story that would have been interesting enough if it had been a mid-run installment, but as a pilot, it lacks oomph. The freshman negotiator Maxine insinuates herself into the cold-open negotiation in which a man has taken hostages in a church, and the imposition is far from endearing. Although there is a hidden reason for Beaumont’s acceptance of Maxine onto the team that is revealed later, her presumption does not make her or those arguing against her inclusion immediately likable.
That being said, the team make-up is about what you’d expect for a hostage negotiation consulting group. In addition to Beaumont, there’s the psychological profiler, Oliver Yates, played by Brandon Jay McLaren of Graceland, and the ex-cop logistics expert, Zara Hallam, played by Nazneen Contractor of Star Trek Into Darkness. Both play their parts quite well, and Yates’ antagonism towards Maxine as well as Zara’s devotion to Beaumont are a nice way to distinguish their characters in an episode that emphasizes the initial action over character development.
There is one moment in particular that causes the narration to stutter in an attempt to shoehorn in some introductory backstory. As Beaumont is walking directly into the church where the opening crisis is taking place, he jarringly takes a call from his daughter who wants to go on a trip with her friends against her mother’s wishes. Beaumont blends his job with his parenting style as he encourages his daughter to offer to take a summer math class as a negotiation tactic, which would be a touching and informative moment if he weren’t literally in the middle of a job.
The main story has its compelling moments, though, as the team works with a couple who has received a ransom note despite the fact that their son has been missing for 8 years. It’s a cool premise, certainly, but the unfolding narrative seems more intent on allowing Maxine to explore the dynamics of the group while showing off some high-tech communications gear that allows the viewer to visualize the all-important negotiator-to-criminal phone call with red waveforms for the bad guys and blue for the good. The latter element feels a bit gimmicky, but it does actually help highlight what would otherwise be a static and repetitive convention.
There is hope for some behind-the-scenes intrigue between the boss and his new protégé as the premiere closes with what presumably is supposed to be an a-ha moment. The reveal might elicit at most the raise of an eyebrow, and it’s uncertain whether it will be enough to suck the audience in for a return visit. The characters themselves are well-portrayed if a tad cookie-cutter, so as long as the characterization keeps pace with the acting, some unique storytelling might rise to the top to keep viewers coming back.
The focus of Ransom’s opening episode, though, was necessarily on the concept for the show and the male and female leads carrying the series. In that regard, Roberts is slightly more successful than Greene in creating a character viewers want to get to know. For fans of crime dramas in which a team of skilled individuals succeed in high-stakes situations while dealing with their personal lives and relationships, Ransom may be a nice addition to their viewing line-up. But with a ton of shows out there just like it, the trick will be in getting those who already have full TV schedules to make room for a series that doesn’t immediately stand out from the crowd.
Ransom will premiere after the football games end on New Year’s Day and will continue in its regular Saturday timeslot at 8pm on January 7 on CBS.