SCHEDULING NOTE: Fox is playing a bit of footsie with Human Target's time slot. The Tuesday night rerun of the pilot did pretty well, but Criminal Minds kind of skunked it on Wednesday. Next week's episode appears to be moving to Tuesdays, which may or may not be a permanent state of affairs. Stay tuned here and at our TV Wasteland column; we'll do our best to follow the bouncing Chance.
Hot damn, this show is fun. Realistic? No. But really, really fun. The scenarios take typical action movie set pieces and add just enough original material to freshen them up. Add some enjoyable characters, a few great one-liners and a twist or two about who the real bad guy is, and Human Target practically writes itself.
Tonight's episode involves the old "terrorists on a plane" gag… or in this case, hired killers on a plane: targeting a computer hacker with a program that can bypass any electronic security system in the world. Chance (Mark Valley) slips onboard disguised as an insurance agent, along with Winston (Chi McBride), unwillingly dragged along in flight attendant's gear. Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley) sits on the ground cracking jokes and making vague-yet-strangely-compelling threats to fellow hackers employed to ferret out the moneymen. (Vague-yet-strangely-compelling threats, by the way, are almost reason enough to tune in on their own.)
Director Steve Boyum juggles the timeline around a bit in order to keep things from becoming too routine. We segue back and forth between the mid-crisis cockpit--where the pilots have been incapacitated and Chance (along with the plucky stewardess du jour) must avoid an imminent explosion--and the quieter chain of events which led up to it. It's a smart play, since it provides the illusion of action to what is essentially a single set piece. The early sections entail pure detective work, as Chance and Winston need to spot not only the assassin, but the hacker as well (a typical cipher who no one has ever actually laid eyes on before). That makes a nice mixture with the latter half of the equation--the part that comes after the guns start going off and Chance has to contemplate rolling the plane in order to prevent a crash. It also stays true to the show's nascent strengths: clever dialogue, an attention to detail and lots of sharp-tongued bickering between the principles.
The overall tone may take a little getting used to. It's not a comic book universe, but it clearly enjoys fudging the laws of physics when convenient to do so. Magic cell phones make a quiet appearance, while mid-air maneuvers and other facets don't come within shouting distance of what we understand to be reality. Human Target silences those doubts with its sense of self-awareness. Valley winks at the audience just often enough to disarm our questions, letting the enjoyment come through without worrying about logic. In that sense, it's captured the essence of 1980s-era action films quite well.
The show's real trick comes in delivering such an atmosphere without devolving into farce. When Guerrero makes his threats, we laugh, but we also believe that he's capable of carrying them out. Chance never breaks a sweat when he works, but he still knows that the danger is real. And while McBride has perfected that sense of boss's exasperation, he's never reduced to caricature. That allows us, as viewers, to have our cake and eat it too: to thrill at the mayhem and explosions while laughing up our sleeves at them along with the cast and crew. It's a winning formula--good movies have employed it for decades--which works as well for "Rewind" as it did for the pilot on Monday. Eventually, they'll run out of action film stereotypes to rework, but not for awhile and not before rendering its formula too reliably endearing to care.