Spring 2014 Review: Crisis

28 Mar

Crisis time

Here’s the titular crisis. A bus containing a group of kids who go to a fancy-schmancy private school for the sons and daughters of the masters of the universe is stopped by armed men and the kids are taken hostage. On the bus is not only the President’s son, but also the kids of very important people in all walks of life, such as ambassadors, titans of industry, and more, including Gillian Anderson’s Meg Fitch, head of a huge global IT company.

The brilliant reasoning of the people behind this act is that they’ll use the leverage they have from kidnapping the children to force their powerful parents to do stuff. Each parent’s individual mission will be a step towards the kidnappers’ overall plan, which still remains a mystery.

The midway-through-the-episode-twist, which I’m going to give away right now, is that Dermot Mulroney’s character, who just seems liked a pathetic has-been parent chaperoning on the trip to spend a little time with his estranged daughter, turns out to be the mastermind behind the entire operation. The plan seems to be some sort of revenge for, well, something or someone, or lots of people who screwed him over a few years ago when he was in the CIA. The details are left unclear but we’re shown a flashback where a man he thought was his best friend threatens his daughter’s life if Mulroney doesn’t go quietly from whatever mysterious CIA position he held.

Oh, also, Gillian Anderson’s estranged sister Susie is the head FBI agent working the case, and it turns out that Susie is actually the mother of Gillian’s daughter, but gave the baby up to Gillian because she was a teenager. In every show like this, it’s important to have a couple of personal crises that also just happen to bubble up at the same time the primary action crisis arises, to give the show more character-based oomph and the potential for the personal and the professional to collide.

The remaining primary character is a secret service agent who escapes with one of the kids and manages to take down one of the attackers. This secret service agent was shot by a rogue secret service agent, and the villains just let him lay around on the ground without making sure he was down for the count which seems like some pretty poor planning for the plotters behind such a complex overall plot.

Crisis is a long-form thriller action series. If almost every long-form supernatural/sci-fi based series of the last decade owes its existence to the success of Lost (which it does), almost every long-form serial thriller action show of the last decade owes its existence to 24.

24 is thus the template for success for this type of show. 24 is more focused on action, while this, and a show like CBS’s Hostages which Crisis immediately made me think of, are more thrillers, which basically means less hand to hand combat, but the blueprint is basically the same. Plots in these shows tend to be mind-bogglingly complicated conspiracies that go all the way to the top. Think about it: they have 22 episodes in which they have to continually be creating constant tension, cliffhangers, and reveals. It’s difficult to construct a truly coherent narrative that meets those standards of excitement.

So the ideal is to have the plot make enough sense in the moment that you are willing to get on board and be taken in by the twists and turns, even if they don’t make sense if anyone thinks too much about them. Because there’s not going to be a whole lot of deep themes or character development, it’s got to be fun; you’ve got to simply enjoy watching these shows in the moment. (24 may try to have you believe that debating the value of torture, etc, was a theme, but it was really just an excuse to realize how disturbingly enjoyable it was to watch Jack Bauer beat people up). Again, 24 is the model – 24’s plots were pretty stupid when you thought about them, and the characters acted in constantly stupid ways, but at its best, it didn’t matter because it was fun to watch Jack Bauer beat shit up, and yell “There’s not enough time!” to anyone willing to listen and for any given forty minutes it seemed like whatever task he was on was really important.

Does Crisis meet this standard? Not really. It’s serviceable. There was nothing offensive, and if somebody threw it on in the background I wouldn’t cringe. But there’s nothing that gripped me, or that made me feel like I absolutely had to see what came next. It’s constructed by the network machine, a competent product, but no more. It’s very much a paint by numbers for this genre; there’s a plan to make it long term – in this case Mulroney has some sort of secret revenge book (think, well, Revenge), that he’ll seemingly be moving through over the season, and there’s plenty of potential personal conflicts. Rather than being bad, Crisis commits perhaps the worst sin for an action thriller; it’s utterly forgettable.

Will I watch it again? No. There’s just no point. Honestly, I’d be shocked if anyone I talk to remembers Crisis’ existence in two years, which speaks more to its forgetability than its terribleness.

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