TV Review: ‘The Blacklist’

"The Blacklist" TV review

James Spader vehicle plays like a 'Silence of the Lambs' sequel

If “Hannibal” was a prequel to “The Silence of the Lambs,” “The Blacklist” plays like a de facto sequel — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Creating a toothy vehicle for James Spader, few series can boast such a compelling central figure, even if his cryptic comments and opaque motives risk giving way to a rather familiar procedural. Still, unlike a lot of this fall’s new hours, “The Blacklist” at least warrants a return visit — and perhaps more if Spader’s serpent-like villain can become more than just Hannibal Lite.

To be fair, in terms of movie touchstones, “Blacklist” is an equal-opportunity borrower. The opening, for example, is straight out of “Seven,” with Spader’s one-time government agent turned master criminal, Raymond “Red” Reddington, walking into FBI headquarters, dropping to his knees as officers surround him and giving himself up to authorities.

“For the moment, our interests are aligned,” he tells the skeptical feds, headed by Harry Lennix, before insisting that an obscure young female agent serve as his conduit and chief contact, for reasons he won’t divulge.

No, it’s not Clarice Starling, but newbie Agent Liz Keen (Megan Boone), who is as mystified by the request as her bosses. Yet she dutifully goes to interview Reddington in a cell seemingly designed to contain Magneto, where the suspect snarls vague clues during tight closeups, setting the FBI after an international “24”-like baddie who Reddington wants to see behind bars.

“I’m gonna make you famous, Lizzie,” he tells her, this target being just first of a catalog of criminals he’d like to see caught.

Spader has always been a particularly interesting actor, and he’s well suited to this sort of twisted figure, where so much is going on behind those eyes. That said, he’s all that lifts “The Blacklist” above the mundane, and at least initially, the format limits his screen time, in the same way James Purefoy was shackled (literally, come to think of it) for much of “The Following’s” first season.

NBC obviously has a hell of a lot riding on this Sony-produced hour, which the network is giving the plum timeslot coming out of “The Voice,” the one truly formidable lead-in in its arsenal. Yet like a lot of procedurals with a built-in backstory — and the list aspect provides the spine for that — the question remains how well the producers can dole out elements to raise the stakes beyond just whether the next name winds up dead or in cuffs.

Minus that concern, “The Blacklist” probably ranks as one of the fall’s more promising new network hours. But that’s the result of grading on a curve — and matching the show up against a pretty gray list.

TV Review: 'The Blacklist'

(Series; NBC, Mon. Sept. 23, 10 p.m.)


Filmed in New York by Davis Entertainment in association with Sony Pictures Television.


Executive producers, John Eisendrath, Jon Bokenkamp, John Davis, John Fox, Joe Carnahan; co-executive producers, Richard Heus (pilot), Gerrit van der Meer, Jace Alexander, John C. Kelley, Patrick Masset, John Zinman, Wendy West; producer, Anthony Sparks; director, Joe Carnahan; writer, Bokenkamp; camera, Frank Prinzi; production designer, Andy Jackness; editors, Sue Blainey, Chris Brookshire, Nathan Gunn; music, John Bissell; casting directors, Suzanne Smith Crowley, Jessica Kelly, Brad Kenny, Rick Pagano, Debi Manwiller. 60 MIN.


James Spader, Megan Boone, Diego Klattenhoff, Ryan Eggold, Harry Lennix, Ilfenesh Hadera

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  1. Jerom Capelle says:

    It’s bad, really really bad. The pilot was a total Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal rip-off and as much as I love Spader and he maybe needed the job he should have never said yes to him playing this Lecter copy. Even the white suit and hat, his love for the expensive tastes and the tilted head. Hell, they even let Tom Noonan reinact the toothfairy role Ralph Fiennes did in Red Dragon, yes, the role Noonan played before in Manhunter, come on. But Boone is no Jody Foster, she is as cardboard as the rest of the characters but her acting can’t save it like 1 or 2 of the other actors can. Then we have countless plotholes. The FBI showing up at Keen’s house with a freaking helicopter for no reason but they couldn’t spare one escorting a general’s daughter? 100’s of whitnesses to a druglord’s dealings have been murdered yet Keen has no problem leaving one in the hands of fake marshalls she doesn’t even know only to run back up the stairs when she hears to her surprise (lol) that a juror has been poisoned. I could go on and on cause the list in the very few first episodes is already endless but why boter. I could mention the terrible dime a dozen electronic drums during the terrible action scenes or that Keen is on high heels when even the worst action movies don’t make that mistake anymore but again, why bother. I see on IMDB and here that a lot of ratings are really high and that the show started a 3rd season so I guess some people are easily fooled & amused. My bad.

  2. Love, Love, Love this show, and of course it is because of James Spader, He has a gift! The story line is great, the plots are good, but the acting from him, and the way he pulls the other characters into the story, OMG, so, so good! I have friends and family watching here and in Europe!

  3. Metellus says:

    This show is the most derivative thing I’ve ever seen. If you enjoy it, that’s fine, but you can’t say it’s original with a straight face.

  4. Anja says:

    I think the Blacklist is fascinating, spellbinding!

  5. S. Bookman says:

    What’s with that stupid sliding cage; no bullet-proof glass on govt cars during inept defense of kidnapping; simpering but too suddenly strong heroine no escort everywhere, not even home; desperate coincidence of cutting carpet finding mystery which as a profiler she never suspicioned; hyped high, but simply more American tv crap.

    • cky says:

      Agree with your comments , thought it was a dull remake of bbc Spooks. 2nd rate makes me want to go write a series if this over hyped show is giving people excitement. I will stick it out for another couple of episodes to see if it can deserve my time.

    • RR says:

      Just to let you know that EVERY single link within your email updates launches a “WordPress > Error” browser page, except for “Unsubscribe” and “Subscription Options”.

  6. LovingAnyway says:

    My husband and I really enjoy this show. We have a problem with the sound editing for dialogue versus music, and within dialogue. You’ve got an excellent plot unfolding at a fast pace and the music overlay rises and falls while characters are speaking, making it nearly impossible at times to understand what’s being said. Wasn’t a problem in the first episode–was really annoying in the second.

  7. IAMIDO says:

    Loved it – on my PVR list and looking forward to watchin again and again….James Spader is baaaaaaaaaaaaack! Woooohooooo!

  8. If James Spader isn’t Megan Boones father, I will eat my thong. Still, kind of a fun hour. Will give it a second viewing and hope for the best.

    • Carol says:

      I agree. James Spader is Megan Boone’s father. Her husband is probably on the Blacklist–thus, Spader’s interest. However, after watching two episodes, I am giving up. To watch Spader waver between shackles and royal treatment will get old fast. I give this show one season–or less.

  9. Jerry Hames says:

    This is a stupidly simplistic show. I as a viewer should not be predicting the next scene before it happens, I have not viewed this series.
    The female agents reactions are way off base and don’t come close to normal for a rookie agent on her first day.
    You shouldn’t dumb down your scripts for the audience.
    A middle schooler can write at this level
    Spider is a good actor, better than this writing…

  10. lovedoxies says:

    I believe James Spader is truly one of the best actors in the world. I became addicted when he was on Boston Legal. I could not believe that show was cancelled. He was fabulous, thrilling, as always drawing you in on the pilot for The Blacklist. Fabulous show, Spader is mesmerizing as Red, you just don’t know what he will do next. Is he good or bad ? I’m really looking forward to the next episode.

  11. Penelope says:

    Absolutely fabulous. Thrilling and unexpected. A very different kind of show. Not your usual cop show, or mystery. I was haunted and scared after seeing it, but can’t wait to see the next episode. James Spader has ALWAYS been a top-notch different kind of actor. Poised, elegant, yet very nasty, terrific with the words, even when he was much younger (and better looking), playing a high school spoiled rich boy. I wish he hadn’t let his looks go down so much, but that happens to all of us with age, but he still “gets me going!” with his unusual personality and charisma. A new show that I’m glad they created, and whoever thought of casting James Spader was spot-on.

  12. MattB says:

    The plot of this show developed as if it had been written on the fly. There was no intelligence behind what was going on in this pilot. This is essentially what you would get if you had a couple of teenage boys brainstorm a TV episode and only gave them an hour to do it. “What next?” “How about lots of guns and bombs and poisonous gas?” “Awesome. Then what?”

    The writing was extremely lazy. There were at least three different times where they tried to be clever by having characters pull off the old “I’ll give you a choice” gag. “You can save your husband, or you can save everyone else.” “You can help me, or I can let you die.”

    Sorry, if I’m going to watch a show, I want to see that there is a real plan behind it. I don’t need mindless over-the-top violence and ridiculous plot-holes and cops behaving like buffoons. No thanks, Blacklist.

  13. belissimo says:

    I only watched it because of James Spader, who is an excellent actor. But was so disappointed in that show, I will not watch it again. Too much confusion, too many people running around, too much explosion, too much violence, too much of everything, not enough of a good story. The girl in the lead cannot act, she is terrible.

  14. Lyngal says:

    Love Spader and Blacklist looks very promising. But writers need to be more realistic and less way over-the-top, make it more believable. For example when Raymond enters the FBI building he is surrounded by a dozen armed security in seconds (really–that many, that soon?); when Elizabeth walks out her front door and sees a copter, 3 agent cars, and about a dozen agents she does not seem all that concerned and just flip says that she won’t be needing the car (really, any normal person would be very surprised!); over kill on how the FBI restrained Raymond like he’s a Hannibal Lector type; when Elizabeth is talking to Agent Cooper when she was first taken to the office, she is much too happy and doesn’t even ask what all the fuss is about; and the FBI agents don’t have bullet-proof windows on their vehicles–oh come on? Spader is fantastic as always and the show looks to be darn good–the writers just need to be more for-real in order to not spoil the show.

  15. WOW!!!!!
    A telivision show has not put me on the edge of my seat for ages.
    James Spader and Megan Boone blow the lid off of this very well written story line..
    I was shocked, because I didn’t think that regular TV had anything left in it that could give cable a run for its money.
    Well, all I have to say is cable…move on over, the Blacklist has arrived!!

  16. jjl80126 says:

    It isn’t even a good procedural. This was the most midndless television in history.

    Kathy Bates in a shoe shop did better and had semi-engaging characters.

    Oh yea…great tradeout with the Sheraton.

  17. Take a portion of Hannibal Lecter, add some plotline of “Along Came a Spider” and dashes of plot shocks a la “Damages” and “Revenge”.
    Add water and stir.
    This is a waste of James Spader’s considerable talent.
    Remember when Kathy Bates opened the law office in a shoe store?
    I rest my case.

  18. RR says:

    Imitation may be considered the sincerest form of flattery. But what was likely intended as a mere throwaway line in one unabashedly plagiarized scene within the first quarter hour may well signify just how lazily recycled and disposable this pilot actually was: the implant of a tracking capsule in Reddington’s arm prompted him to say “ouch” with EXACTLY the same flat sarcasm as James Bond in identical circumstances in the film series’ “Casino Royale” reboot.

    Ouch indeed.

  19. Watched the Blacklist last night. I want my hour back. But only if I can still get a great deal on zero point 9 % financing.

  20. blahblahfuckyou says:

    worst shit ive ever seen on tv. horrible show. horrible plot. horrible acting. horrible directing. just sucks.

    • marcianna50 says:

      What were you watching? James Spader was intriguing to watch and there was a lot of excitement packed into one hour. I found this to be a show that will have intrigue and cause those watching to be anxious for the following Monday so they can see the next show. I wonder what it is that you, blahblah….., consider to be a good show. Remember, this is Network television, not cable.

  21. Steve Shea says:

    If NBC has a lot on the line on this show, they have started out with zero technical advice about how United States Marines act. During the first twenty minutes, a Marine Sergeant approaches a Marine General officer. The Sergeant salutes like a Keytone cop, with his fingers touching his cover above the brim, at the leather band. Absurd. And the general’s ribbons are not in the correct order. The combat action ribbon does not take precedence over the Bronze Star Medal or the Purple Heart. And, almost as bad, both Marine’s uniforms are ill fitting. Now, I haven’t been on active duty in more than forty years. But there is not a Marine — Private or Sergeant — who would render such a salute. And the rest of my criticism speaks for itself.
    Geez. Ask a Marine, present, retired or former, to advise you next time. And — should you manage somehow to get the okay for future episodes — pay attention to military customs and courtesies. They’s just not that hard. I would expect a better performance from grade school children. This performance was not only poor, it was downright disrespectful.
    Semper fidelis,
    Snakey Tricker Charlie

  22. Charles Loy says:

    The article writer refers to ‘Hannibal the television series’ which is set chronologically earlier than Silence of the Lambs.

  23. Dan Secuc says:

    I know it’s just a detail, but I’d expect variety staff to know that Hannibal was in fact Silence’s sequel, not prequel.

  24. D'Daquan ™ says:

    White man burden. Only the Blacklist James “Leroy” Spader haz iz Stargate with Kurt Russell Crowe, who play Suppa Mann’s dad, and Da Gladiator.

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