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Fall 2013 Review: Hostages

9 Oct

The four Hostages

Hostages, a rare CBS serial drama, is an action suspense series built on the raison d’etre of ratcheting everything up to 11. The show opens with FBI agent Dylan McDermott taking over a contentious bank hostage situation from the local police.  While the police are tentative and willing to negotiation, McDermott barks orders, demands the kidnapper release most of the hostages, and has the balls to shoot first and ask questions later when he suspects the kidnapper has switched his dress with one of the hostages.  Basically, he’s aggressive, risk-taking, and a badass.

From there, It takes 15 minutes to get to the basic premise that anyone who has seen the trailer already knows. The president of the United States needs surgery. He’s chosen a highly trained female surgeon played by Toni Collette to perform the operation, which is invasive but routine. The night before the surgery is planned for, three men and a woman come into her house and take her and her family hostage with an ultimatum. She will kill the president while performing the surgery in a seamless, impossible-to-detect method they’ve already devised, or they will kill her family.

Boom.  There you go.  The president may be assassinated by a prestigious surgeon, whose family is held hostage by a shadowy group of highly-trained operatives, all in about two commercial breaks.

High enough stakes for you?


How about this? The conspiracy goes all the way to the top. Dylan McDermott, the heroic, daring FBI agent, who certainly seemed like a good guy, is the leader of the kidnappers. Better yet, his reason for heading up the kidnapping may be because someone has threatened his daughter.  He receives a call from his father, who is sitting at his home watching McDermott’s daughter, sitting next to someone who wants to know about McDermott’s progress in the kindapping.  That person? The president’s chief of staff, who we saw earlier in the episode questioning the president’s decision to use Toni Collette as his surgeon. Whoa.

Not to mention every member of Toni Collette’s family, being held at their home by the surprisingly gentle and gentlemanly (and gentlewomanly) terrorists, has a secret. Her husband, played by Tate Donovan, is having an affair. Her son is dealing pot. Her daughter is pregnant with a shady boyfriend who her parents have never met.

The terrorists consistently anticipate every move that the family makes, as to consistently demonstrate that they’re very good at this.  The ultimate show of this is when Toni Collette sets off the silent alarm.  McDermott and crew not only recognize the alarm going off immediately and threaten Collette’s husband so that she’ll tell the security company that nothing’s wrong, but the security company man who comes to their house just to check is actually working with the kidnappers and presents Toni Collette with a threatening photograph that reveals just how much the kidnappers know about the family.  Damn, they’re good. They’ve got everything covered – how is she possibly going to keep her family alive without killing the president?

That’s the big question and it is a big question.  The problem is that by the time the episode ends, my desire to know that get to the answer of that question should be a lot more urgent than it actually was.  The stakes, strictly in a political sense, were as high as almost any first episode of a television show.  Still, I didn’t feel compelled to see the next episode or all that interested.  Aside from the the high-stakes premise, none of the backing factors such as well-defined characters or well-written dialogue were present to invest me in the dire situation.

Hostages seems like a very poor man’s 24, albeit with more tension and less actual action. There’s suspense with no substance. The show hits the ground running, hoping to draw viewers in from the get go for the super tense action, but the show forgets that in order to get people involved in a television show, you need them to care somewhat about the characters and the situation. Unlike an action movie, where you can watch 88 minutes of people kicking each other’s asses for no reason and just enjoy it for that, to follow 20 40 minute episodes a season of television you need to come up with a little something more. 24, which was the master at action television, at least in its early years before it ran out of ideas, got viewers involved early with its gimmick and high stakes, but supplemented that with characters we cared about (President Palmer!), and taut suspense scenarios in which it never mattered how much they defied logic. More than that, 24 was fun. It wasn’t funny, but it was fun to watch. Hostages really isn’t. Hostages is a drag.

Will I watch it again? No.  It wasn’t absolutely awful. There will be a lot of worse shows, and the worse dramas are rarely as bad as the worse comedies. Still, not worth your time. Watch the first season of 24 again for action and watch the first season of Homeland for suspense if you want better examples of what this show is trying to be.