There’s obviously no bigger stage than the Super Bowl, which hasn’t prevented networks from squandering the opportunity with surprising regularity over the years. So credit NBC with employing a logical, well-thought-out game plan by airing the first of a two-part “The Blacklist” on Sunday, seeking to hook viewers and lead them directly into the show’s new Thursday-night timeslot.
While there was no need to reinvent the wheel creatively speaking, NBC also left little to chance. The episode (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) ran a robust 16 minutes before the first commercial break, and a bug reminding the audience about the Thursday move remained an annoying fixture on the bottom of the screen.
Loading up on formidable guest stars — including David Strathairn and Janel Maloney — the centerpiece was Ron Perlman as Luther Braxton, who took over the detention facility where Reddington (James Spader) was being held. Holding multiple hostages, Braxton quickly demonstrated his ruthlessness — bad guys on “The Blacklist” are invariably very, very bad — forcing Reddington and FBI Agent Keen (Megan Boone) to plot a way to thwart him.
Not surprisingly, those wanting to know how it all plays out will be required to watch Thursday, or at a minimum, DVR it and watch some time after “Scandal’s” over. And while the producers didn’t exactly go out of their way to reintroduce everyone to the series, the storyline was basic enough that someone even moderately familiar with the show could easily jump right in.
For NBC, the stakes could hardly be higher, having seen its once-dominant “Must-See TV” franchise on the week’s most lucrative night — a prime showcase for movie ads and other products leading directly into the weekend — get lapped by CBS and ABC. As it is, misfires with comedy inspired the decision to transform the night into an all-drama lineup, with “Allegiance” and “The Slap” to bookend “The Blacklist” over the next two weeks, giving NBC a comedy-free look for the first time in more than a generation.
“The Blacklist” remains an extremely efficient show, if a not particularly remarkable one. Spader’s lusty performance — part Hannibal Lecter, part James Bond — consistently elevates the material, with various mysteries built into that enigmatic persona. In that respect, it’s often two programs in one — pausing to give Reddington eloquent monologues, then racing ahead with more prosaic “Who’s on the list this week?” action. That includes a very clever game of Lucy with the football in regard to dangling clues (as Sunday’s hour did again) regarding Liz’s past and how Reddington figures into it.
Frankly, one suspects “The Blacklist” will do just fine in its new location, even without this Super Bowl come-on to bait the lure. The larger questions are whether NBC can capitalize on its freed-up post-“The Voice” real estate on Monday (“State of Affairs” doesn’t look like the answer) as well as gain any traction with the adjacent programs Thursday. If not, this Sony Pictures Television drama is destined to become one of those lonely scheduling islands for a while, waiting for some worthy, high-powered support arrive.
Then again, should that latter scenario occur, the show and Spader’s central character will actually have something in common.