NBC’s most puzzling roll of the dice this development season, “The Player” might set a record in terms of the amount of time spent trying to explain the rules of the show. Not that it really helps this simple-minded drama, which contains an element similar to “Person of Interest,” if that show were smacked across the frontal lobe. Presumably bountiful action, modest mythology and the casting of Wesley Snipes are expected to smooth over those rough patches, but since the premiere talks a lot about gambling, in terms of a second season, don’t bet on it.
Philip Winchester (who joins his “Strike Back” co-star Sullivan Stapleton in new NBC dramas) plays Alex Kane, a security consultant whose ex-wife is murdered early in the proceedings. This provides an excuse for Winchester to chase the bad guy down the Las Vegas strip in his underwear, which might be the only way this clunky hour — created by John Rogers and John Fox, and boasting a producing pedigree from “The Blacklist” — will ever be compared to “Birdman.”
Once clothed, Kane is recruited by a shadowy organization presided over, sort of, by Snipes’ mysterious Mr. Johnson, who goes by the name the Dealer, and Cassandra King (Charity Wakefield), an attractive Brit seemingly intended to class up the joint. It’s explained to Kane, badly, that the faceless oligarchs who participate in this elaborate high-stakes game calculate probabilities of criminal activity and then “gamble on crime,” with the Player, the role they’d like Kane to take on, the major variable in terms of stopping it.
Of course, Players don’t have a terrific track record in terms of longevity, so it behooves our reluctant hero to figure out if there’s some way to beat the system in terms of knowing when hold ’em or fold ’em. Yet while that speaks to some potential for growth — for all the exposition, there’s a lot that remains murky — it’s hard to see the series blossoming into much of anything, based on the thudding nature of the premiere.
Mostly, it’s all just a glossy excuse for a lot of high-speed chases and fights, informed by the seemingly futile hope that the program’s tone and look will appeal to “The Blacklist” audience, which merely suggests some confusion as to why people responded well to that show. Even without the absolutely tortured nature of the premise here, the characters are stiff to the point of being laughable.
Escapism has its place, and NBC has fared reasonably well by spinning the wheel on a certain kind of procedural-like crime drama that hews toward CBS’ footprint. Still, if this is reflective in any way of the scope of the Peacock network’s ambitions, well, that really would be a crime.