Brimming with “24”-like intrigue, “Hostages” is one of those series where the pilot doesn’t tell you a whole lot, since the high-wire act is going to depend heavily on how many rabbits the producing team can keep pulling out of hats. Bearing an initial resemblance to “The Desperate Hours” (a story Hollywood has filmed three times), what’s described as a limited series features an especially strong lead in Toni Collette, the doctor caught in the center of the storm. There’s certainly a racing pulse in this Jerry Bruckheimer production, but the longer-term prognosis remains murky.
Collette is Dr. Ellen Sanders, a doctor who has been tapped to perform what’s supposed to be a fairly rudimentary surgical procedure on the President of the United States (James Naughton). Yet when a group of men invade her home — taking her husband (Tate Donovan) and kids hostage — she’s faced with a no-win choice: Participate in a conspiracy to ensure that the president dies on the operating table, or risk having her family harmed.
The gunmen are led by Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott), who is introduced as a gun-slinging federal agent, and who quickly establishes he isn’t lying when he tells the Sanders clan that he and his accomplices “know everything” about them. Still, the question of just how high up this plot goes, and who might be involved, adds a dense layer of paranoia to Ellen’s plight.
Written by Alon Aranya and Jeffrey Nachmanoff, “Hostages” has a polished feel to it, and the limited-series approach certainly makes the prospect of committing to the show more palatable, inasmuch as it won’t be able to explain away its central predicament forever. (Then again, if the ratings are good, one suspects CBS will find a way to perpetuate the franchise, even if that means locking everyone up under a large glass dome.)
While the serialized nature of the premise is slightly outside CBS’ procedural-heavy wheelhouse, the network is banking on the show to pick up where “Hawaii Five-O” left off. And if enough people sample the prototype — no slam dunk given the competition — there’s a pretty good incentive to hang around at least a little longer, if only to get a firmer feel on where this might be heading, with family secrets and strained relationships clearly on the soapy menu to hold at least some viewers hostage.