The participation of “True Blood” producer Alan Ball raised expectations “Banshee” might be a tad more ambitious than the Cinemax dramas that have preceded it, but alas, no such luck. Focusing on a thief who takes refuge in a quirky Pennsylvania town — bringing him closer to his ex-girlfriend/partner in crime — the show has some unorthodox elements, but feels fairly cliched in most of its beats, largely serving as an excuse for bouts of grisly violence and gratuitous sex. That’s fine, so far as it goes, but for anyone hoping Cinemax might up its game, “Banshee” is nothing to howl about.
A nameless convict (“Rush’s” Antony Starr) is released from prison after 15 years as the show opens, hunting down his ex, Carrie (Ivana Milicevic, perhaps the perfect Cinemax femme fatale), who is now hiding in plain sight as a mom with two kids. Through a strange series of events, Starr’s Man With No Name winds up assuming the identity of the new sheriff, Lucas Hood, whom no one (conveniently) has ever seen or met.
Still, the town of Banshee is a weird amalgam of characters, including the local mob boss, an ex-Amish named Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen); and the Asian drag queen/master hacker (Hoon Lee) who helps the newly named Hood establish his identity.
Throw in shadowy bad guys who don’t mind shooting up a crowded street, still pursuing Hood and Carrie for the diamonds they heisted before he went away, and there’s a lot going on. Still, what cries out for a more “Twin Peaks”-like approach just feels like a stock locale from any action yarn/thriller. As for the tone, Hood has sexual encounters with women who never so much as speak — they exchange pouting glances — in each of the first two hours, which offers a fair description of where gals rate in this brooding, testosterone-filled universe.
Created by Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler, “Banshee” has the potential to become deeper and richer once the big bad guy whose on Hood’s trail, played by Ben Cross, becomes more involved in the proceedings. Still, the action-packed premiere (directed by Greg Yaitanes) and a subsequent hour provide precious little insight as to what Hood’s endgame might be, and frankly, Starr, while buff and physical, doesn’t convey much impression of a master plan behind those piercing eyes. Nor do the periodic flashbacks to the central couple’s ill-fated final caper together do much more than kill time.
Given Hood’s unorthodox approach to policing, one of his deputies tells him he “cannot keep making up the rules as you go along,” which might very well be true for a bogus law-enforcement officer. Fortunately, as long as people keep getting naked and killed, the rules governing expectations for Cinemax dramas apparently remain considerably more lenient.