At times during its first season, “The Blacklist” felt like two series in one: The very good one starring James Spader as a ruthless criminal, and the more mundane procedural in which he had taken refuge. Thanks to the show’s success, though, NBC and the producers have little reason to tinker with that formula, other than having Spader’s “Red” Reddington assume an expanded role within the premiere, while tapping some fine new actors to join (temporarily, perhaps) the program’s extended company.
In that respect, there was a decided contrast between “The Blacklist” – a series that seems to know exactly what it wants to deliver – and “Under the Dome,” the CBS serial that concluded its second summer run directly opposite it, looking for an exit that, at this point, can’t come soon enough.
“The Blacklist” set up a foe worthy of Reddington in the heavy played by Peter Stormare (and SPOILERS await if you haven’t watched), who sought vengeance by kidnapping Reddington’s ex-wife, portrayed by Mary-Louise Parker. (Let’s hope Parker has more to do in future episodes than simply be menaced and slowly dismantled, like a human Mr. Potato Head.)
Written by series creator Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath and directed by Michael Watkins, the premiere felt even busier than usual, with Spader’s oily antihero periodically emerging to steal scenes and spare viewers from fretting too much about whether the intersecting plots actually make a lick of sense. All one really needs to know is that Reddington seldom lets anyone see him sweat, and always seems to have gamed out every possible scenario, keeping him several steps ahead of his reluctant allies and enemies alike.
Granted, the FBI agent Reddington has taken under his wing – for reasons still known, in their entirety, only to him – Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), remains fairly bland. Now that her marital status has been cleared up, she becomes an integral part of the task force but not necessarily its focus, at least, until the inevitable next shoe drops.
The greatest danger facing “The Blacklist” at this point, in fact, might come from its network, which is preparing to test the loyalty of its audience by relocating the series to Thursday nights. Of course, with the show slated to replace it, “State of Affairs,” experiencing behind-the-scenes changes, it’s possible NBC might reconsider, or at least tinker with its timetable.
Certainly, if Red owned a piece of the show, one suspects he’d figure out a way to stay perched behind “The Voice” a bit longer, even if that meant kneecapping an executive or two.
As for “Under the Dome,” somehow the Stephen King-adapted drama grew even sillier after its disappointing first-season finale, to the point where Monday’s capper devolved into a semi-slasher movie, with poor Dean Norris hobbling through the woods after having a knife jammed into his foot.
To paraphrase another Dean – Wormer, from “Animal House” – nasty, confusing and pointless is no way to go through life, kids.
To be fair, translating King to TV has historically been challenging, and this story might have been more problematic than most. Yet after the program opened so strongly, it’s hard to escape the feeling an opportunity has been squandered, only heightened by having the marquee tandem of King and Steven Spielberg attached to it.
“Dome” already experienced a significant ratings decline this summer, but CBS has been clever in underwriting the cost of the show, as well as “Extant,” through international sales and its streaming rights deal with Amazon.
Still, creatively speaking, the producers got it half right: “Under the Dome” limped toward the finish, all right. But it’s because the show shot itself in the foot.