From its splashy opening credits evoking fond memories of “I Spy” or “The Wild Wild West,” “Human Target” feels like a fun throwback — a lighthearted action thriller with fine chemistry among its male trio of regulars, anchored by Mark Valley’s breezy charm as Christopher Chance, a bodyguard whose willingness to put his life on the line for the client hints at a darker past and, perhaps, a death wish. Although the series departs from its comicbook roots, the premiere establishes a topnotch look, clever style and bigscreen tone.
Perhaps most significantly, the second hour happily matches or surpasses the first, suggesting the show didn’t just shoot its wad with an expensive, front-loaded pilot. And since the first takes place aboard a (bullet) train and the second a plane, automobiles surely can’t be far behind.
Chance takes his assignments from Winston (Chi McBride, so adept at playing sidekicks that he’ll apparently never be out of work), who worries that his pal might be losing his edge after a precredit hostage standoff. His mission involves protecting an imperiled executive (“Battlestar Galactica’s” Tricia Helfer) responsible for California’s bullet train — reflecting a high-tech commitment to public transit in this cash-starved state that clearly establishes the program as fiction.
When his charge fusses as to why Chance has a bulletproof vest and she doesn’t, he responds calmly, “I’m your vest.”
Chance is not only a man of many skills, but one of mystery — down to whether that name is to be believed. Valley plays him with a cocky, Rockford-like cool that has served USA’s “Burn Notice” especially well. In addition, the procedural nature of the assignments allows “Human Target” to dabble in “24”-esque thrills without requiring any of the associated head-scratching about continuity — nailing the light-hearted escapism NBC kept trying to achieve (and missed) with many of its Ben Silverman-era dramas.
Throw in Jackie Earle Haley as an amoral gun (and computer hacker) for hire, and there’s a solid character foundation to keep eyebrows arched between the stunts, fistfights and explosions. Indeed, just seeing the diminutive Haley and towering McBride occupy the same frame is enough to elicit a smile.
Fox is giving the show a well-orchestrated sendoff, sandwiching its premiere between playoff football and the kickoff to “24’s” new season. The series then shifts to Wednesdays, where success will hinge in part on maintaining a fickle male audience that Fox has fruitlessly courted in the past, watching them abandon fare like “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” after promising debut numbers.
As a historical footnote, ABC actually tried its own series based on this property in the early ’90s (starring Rick Springfield, no less), but the concept might have finally found its place in the ’10s. Maintaining this level of firepower obviously poses a challenge, but two episodes in, anyway, the execution appears to be right on target.