Can ‘The Blacklist’ Keep Making Noise Without Its ‘Voice?’

"The Blacklist" Enters Make or Break

If NBC's fledgling drama is going to endure, it enters key window with its own to-do list

As NBC and other networks have discovered, declaring something a hit prematurely in this day and age can fall squarely in counting-chickens-before-they’re-hatched territory. So after a promising start in the fall behind “The Voice,” “The Blacklist” returns for a January run without that generous lead-in, testing whether this James Spader vehicle is the real deal — or at the very least has established enough of a bond to stand alone on its TV-toddler legs.

It doesn’t help, strictly on an anecdotal basis, how many people appear to echo my sentiments — saying things like, “I started watching ‘The Blacklist,’ and a I kind of liked it, but….”

In this case, that’s a rather big “but” — referring, essentially, to everything in the show that isn’t Spader. Moreover, some people appear to be getting somewhat tired (again, a feeling harbored here) of the prolonged tease regarding Spader’s character, Red Reddington, and the underlying reason for his interest in the young FBI agent (Megan Boone) who he has pulled into his mysterious orbit.

On the plus side, recognizing what a potential asset the show could be, Sony Pictures Television has invested in the series, recruiting fine actors like Jane Alexander and Alan Alda for ongoing roles, and introducing a shadowy conspiracy. That said, it’s hard to escape a tedious sense of repetition that has crept into the formula already,

On Monday, “Blacklist” didn’t have “The Voice” as its opening act, instead following something called “American Ninja Warrior: USA Vs. Japan.” Moreover, it went up against the second episode of “Intelligence,” a new CBS drama that got off to a promising start last week with the help of a preview behind “NCIS.”

NBC no doubt breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday, as “Blacklist” won its timeslot in preliminary Nielsen results, with 9.1 million viewers and a 2.5 rating among adults 18-49 — a 17% drop from its last flight of originals, which is OK, provided that doesn’t turn into a trend line. (“Intelligence” notched a weak 6.1 million and 1.1, respectively, suggesting most of those who sampled the show didn’t feel all that compelled to follow it.)

Still, the bottom line is “The Blacklist” often feels at war with itself — like two shows wrapped into one. Unfortunately, while the one involving Spader is darkly comic and entertaining (if occasionally a tad grisly), the other is wholly ordinary. That schism felt even more pronounced in this latest hour, with Reddington running around solo exacting vengeance, while the FBI chased a poor man’s Norman Bates.

Like many shows, “The Blacklist” came with its own version of a TV joke built into the premise: All those names on the list theoretically provide an excuse to run until all the bad guys have been hunted down, which in success could take a good long time. (Fox’s “Alcatraz” used a similar device but didn’t get to fulfill its charter.)

NBC could certainly use a legitimate dramatic hit — indeed, all the networks are starved for them at 10 p.m. — but just wishing and willing it won’t necessarily make it so. And the clock is ticking, inasmuch as the obvious goal would be to move the show and let “The Voice” help launch another new hour.

Those with a stake in “The Blacklist” have taken modest steps to tinker with the program, clearly without wanting to undermine what’s currently working. But they’re playing with fire if they feel overly secure about the series remaining on the Nielsen A-list strictly because of its star. So if they really want this show to be a smash — as opposed to, say, a “Smash” — their to-do list should be almost as long as Reddington’s.

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  1. Daryle says:

    Definitely agree with the person who said that the network hasn’t continued to promote the show enough. I was one of those people who didn’t realize it was back on and missed this latest episode. :(
    James Spader is one of those talents who CAN carry a show almost by his lonesome. I would disagree with those who think the scripting is weak or is already getting a little stale. It seems like Spader is someone who would be able to perceive the need for script changes and also someone with the clout to demand them. But relatively speaking, this show is top-notch compared to most of what network TV is currently offering in the drama category.

  2. Broadwayfan says:

    I never have watched The Voice, and I never will. But I, also, WILL NEVER miss an episode of The Blacklist. It is, by far, the best show on network television. I hope it continues for years. It doesn’t need that dopey singing show as a lead in!

  3. Jacques Strappe says:

    I give The James Spader Show one more season and then it is blacklisted from television. Nothing new and different here. Spader, who can still be as amusing as his Boston Legal character, chews up every scene he is in. I say DVR it just in case you need a Spader fix but this is not worthy of live viewing.

    • Marti says:

      I AGREE 100 PERCENT I HAVE AS OF YET TO MISS AN EPISODE OF THE BLACKLIST I EVEN HAVE THEM ALL RECORDED SO I CAN WATCH THEM ANY TIME I WANT TOO!! I LOVE IT!! AND IT IS THE BEST SHOW ON TV.

  4. Paul Lychako says:

    What is the Voice?

  5. Sharon says:

    The Blacklist is one of the best shows to come along. It is different , I look forward to it coming on. James Spaders character is one that you remember and talk about with your friends. His character is so evil but one that you really like and want to see more of. James Spader was perfectly cast in this part. I hope this series stays on for a long time. It is right up there with NCIS and Criminal Minds.

  6. TravelGal says:

    I was surprised to even see The Blacklist yesterday on my DVR because I saw ZERO advertising letting us know it was back. I watched same night and was on the edge of my seat. It was kick ass and didn’t disappoint. It’s on my “must watch list,” taking over the hole “24” left behind for me.

  7. Robert says:

    I really enjoy the show. Spader is an incredible actor and Megan Boone is easy on the eyes. There is always a twist with an interesting story. It certainly is better than the other programming it competes with. I’m so tired of the sitcoms and comedy skits that are, for the most part, not funny and the same ol same ol. Really, just how much more can you take? So while I think Brian Lowery is spot on with most of his review, I disagree with changing anything.

  8. Lynn says:

    Love this show and especially last night’s show with the Spader one-liners. I see nothing boring or repetitious about it and feel like I did when I first started watching 24…lots of plot twists that keep me watching! Whoever cast Spader in this role was a genius and I for one sure hope its around for a long time!

  9. Jessica VoxPop (@JessicaVoxPop) says:

    I couldn’t stand the show. I was very excited for it, watched the first three episodes, and thought it was atrociously written. Other than Spader, it was painful to watch, and he even seemed to be working overtime to put over the hokey, cliched dialogue. I wanted to like it, was planning on watching, but couldn’t stand it.

  10. sailingsam says:

    James Spader is the only interesting thing about the show…the FBI Agents are always 2 steps behind and never get there on time…change the entire cast and start the show over..haha..

  11. big daddy D says:

    I love James Spader. He was hilariously menacing at the restaurant with the dude and the cigar..bodies dropping left and right. Can’t wait to see what he does as Ultron in the next Avengers movie.

  12. Love the show and I certainly hope it stays around for many seasons to come!

    • AmandaFitz says:

      I agree with you. I love “The Blacklist.” There are only a few shows that keep me riveted and hating for the episode to end- usually, I’m doing chores while the television is on. Not with “The Blacklist,” I might miss something crucial. It’s a well written show and smart- reminds me of “Rubicon” a little bit. Also, this is the first time I’ve actually liked James Spader. I hope this show is around for a long time.

      • I agree too. There are many shows that I “half” watch but this one I make sure I catch it all. I have seen Spader before but never really got into the other shows, but I love his character in this show. He is the right mix of good and evil. He reminds me of JR, a good character that even though you want to hate him you can’t.

    • Lynn1102 says:

      I really enjoy the show. Most of the others are getting away from their original story line and are getting real boring. I never watch the Voice anyway, so I could care less about that.

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