Production notes state that this limited series employs a “documentary-like style,” which includes identifying characters onscreen much like a newscast. Forgive the skepticism, but it’s equally plausible someone wanted to help make sense of a convoluted mish-mash that never quite coalesces. Filled with awkward political oratory and cliched dialogue, this globetrotting, “Traffik”-like yarn from one of that mini’s producers gets derailed by too many ill-defined characters and moving parts.
TNT has certainly done a laudable job promotion-wise, unleashing a barrage of spots during its NBA playoff coverage. Unfortunately, this six-hour enterprise does little to merit such largess, despite the timeliness of its “war on terrorism” theme and exploration of how bureaucratic nonsense affects all sides.
In this case, it’s a terrorist cell with nefarious (and nebulous) plans, and the efforts of U.S. and British counter-terrorism forces to thwart them. After a mishap involving deadly sarin gas in a London hotel, it’s decided to create a multi-agency team under National Security Council operative Maren Jackson (Julianna Margulies), tapping FBI agent Max Canary (Dylan McDermott) to work with her. This irks the CIA’s counter-terrorism czar (Tom Skerritt), who seems more interested in staking out turf than nabbing bad guys.
The Brits, meanwhile, have their own group under MI5’s Derek Jennings (Bernard Hill), who plays nice with the Americans; and MI6 director Emily Tuthill (Jemma Redgrave), who doesn’t. “We were enlisted to find what wasn’t there and take the blame for not finding it,” the latter harrumphs at one point regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Ken Friedman’s script delves into the terrorist operation as well, though the need to balance the negative portrayal of Islamic radicals results in lots of stilted exchanges about the religion being sullied by Jihadists.
Nor are snatches from the agents’ personal lives much more convincing. Max has hooked up with the wife of a friend killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, while Maren is involved with an oil exec (James Remar) she’s so hot for that they can’t make it through dinner. “You’re not hungry?” he asks. “Not for food,” she purrs coyly, eliciting the wrong kind of groans.
The narrative careens to and fro under Mikael Salomon’s direction, introducing characters and locations so rapidly that none of the cast really registers, though it’s reassuring to see all these ex-series stars gainfully employed. Indeed, about all that can be stitched together from the various plot threads is that something bad is gonna happen soon if the good guys don’t get their act together quick, and little is done to cut through that murkiness in the third and fourth hours.
Certainly, Fox’s “24” has demonstrated that paralleling uncomfortable reality isn’t necessarily a turnoff, though that show has managed to cast the issue in ethical terms — asking how far the government will go, and what sacrifices are justified, in the name of protecting us. By contrast, the story here wanders as if unable to select a direction, flitting from action yarn to exploring terror’s roots to wonkish treatise on interagency bickering.
The limited series format makes sense for cable, where the intent is to fleetingly garner attention with an entry like USA’s “The 4400” or Sci Fi’s “Five Days to Midnight” without requiring a long-term commitment. Like those earlier projects, however, “The Grid” possesses worthwhile elements but ultimately appears unable to connect the dots.