HUMAN TARGET - 1.1 - "Pilot" Review -

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  • TV Series: Human Target
  • Episode: Pilot
  • Starring: Mark Valley, Chi McBride, and Jackie Earle Haley
  • Written By: Jonathan E. Steinberg
  • Directed By: Simon West
  • Network: Fox
  • Series: Human Target

HUMAN TARGET - 1.1 - "Pilot" Review

He's Here to Help in Human Target

By Rob Vaux     January 19, 2010

Human Target
© Fox/Bob Trate


The producers of Human Target promised a lighter, more fun-loving action series than we may have been expecting: something akin to the Die Hard movies and similar 80s fare. They're not as alone in the TV landscape with that as they think: the likes of Chuck and Burn Notice aim for the same shits-and-giggles tone. Judging by the premiere episode, however, Human Target is a fine addition to that stable, with clever writing, cool characters and a modest adrenaline rush available for very little up-front investment.
The main character comes from the pages of DC Comics: Christopher Chance (Mark Valley), an elite bodyguard who impersonates his charges in order to protect them from harm. The comics paint him as a fairly dark, brooding figure--he's currently running on the Vertigo line--which the TV show has more or less done away with. So too has it eliminated his "master of disguise" shtick: the producers are concerned about how the comparative hokiness of fake beards will play on TV. Instead, they focus on Chance's unique ability to sense danger, see details which speak to an oncoming threat, and move quickly to eliminate it.
It works exceedingly well in the pilot because writer Jonathan E. Steinberg shows us how observant Chance is rather than just telling us. (He spots a poisoned drink because it's the only one in the room which uses cubes instead of crushed ice, for example.) He also imbues Chance with some interesting character quirks--such as a possible death wish--which tinge the otherwise upbeat action scenes with just enough shadow to keep them interesting. Valley proves charismatic and likeable, with a properly square jaw and a sense that he could be ready for anything.
So too does Chance's support network provide a lively and engaging presence. Chi McBride makes an excellent straight man, playing Chance's perennially exasperated handler Winston, but the real scene-stealer is Jackie Earle Haley, as a computer hacker and all-around evil bastard who Chance brings in for a little legwork. Haley is experiencing a professional second bloom that few actors have ever enjoyed, and watching him dig into the unassuming menace of his role here, it's clear he intends to make the most of it.
Director Simon West also succeeds in delivering A-list action sequences on a television budget. The particulars involve an assassination attempt on a high-speed train traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles, complete with harrowing escapes, nifty fistfights and a central gimmick which enhances the mayhem instead of overwhelming it. More importantly, he keeps the proceedings centered on character and dialogue, with the explosions serving as the straw that stirs the drink rather than the series' end all, be all. The show's best moments involve a quip or an abstract concept rather than a set piece, and while West certainly has action movie credentials (he helmed Con Air and the first Lara Croft movie), his work here suggests a focus on character which neither of those previous efforts could manage. Pilot episodes always get more money than subsequent episodes, but that won't matter if the writing stays as sharp as it does in the intro.
The comparative lack of subtext proves an even bigger benefit. Unlike, say, 24, no one can accuse Human Target of tackling issues out of its depth. It just wants us to have fun, forget our troubles and cheer for a guy who becomes remarkably easy to like. There's plenty of dark, gritty action to be had elsewhere; Human Target reminds us all that it's just a TV show, and that we shouldn't worry too much about broadening our minds. An hour of very potent, slightly guilty pleasures is more than enough to keep us riveted.


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ponyboy76 1/19/2010 5:06:05 PM

I have to say I enjoyed this show from jump. It does have that Burn Notice tone which is great because I love that show. Mark Valley has this cool, part funny, part serious way that he delivers lines which is why I was a fan of his earlier work like Keen Eddie. I'm also old enough to remember my sister watching him in Days of Our Lives. Dude has come a long way. Its also good to see Chi McBride in another show after Pushing Daisies went south.
 As far as the show itself, I am glad they were able to alter it from the comic without taking away the focus. I look forward to the next episode.

Kraken89 1/19/2010 11:14:47 PM

Though the idea of having a man of disguise in a T.V show is cool, I too am glad they chose not to incorperate the disguise idea because "the dude play'n the dude disguised as another dude" schtick is too complicated for just one hour. I was watching AOTS and apparently Valley and the producer are war buddies from Operation Desert Storm, granted that was a while ago but I'd imagine Valley did go through rigorous training and such before hand.

fenngibbon 1/20/2010 1:14:17 AM

 Having seen the pilot, this show looks to be a great addition to the lineup (and, for once, there aren't 5 other shows I want to watch on at the same time), though, being Fox, I wonder how long it'll actually be on.

And Jackie Earle Haley stole the show with that scene with the two thugs.  What the heck happened to him after the Bad News Bears Meet the Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island (or whatever the last BBN movie was)?  He seemed to vanish off the radar until Watchmen, and now he's kicking ass and taking names.

djcgmcse 1/20/2010 5:43:02 AM

Very much enjoyed this first episode, thought it was a lot of fun.  Lets hope this series sticks around for a while.

avidfan 1/20/2010 12:11:46 PM

Mark grew up around the corner from me.  As a local hero his career was always a focus.  He has come a long way.  The football gods ended things Sunday just in time for me to tune into this show and I really liked it.  The "exploded" commercial actually turned me off, but for a first episode the actors really seemed to fit well with the characters they are playing.  Think about the first episodes of Sienfeld... kind of funny but who the f*ch was Kramer in those -some kind of burnout.  I hope it can sustain itself.  As we all know, Fox loves to pull the trigger.

thorin02 1/20/2010 4:22:03 PM

This is a solid B-level action show.  Jackie Earle Haley was awesome.  I loved his character's introduction.   And the fight choreography was very good.  It was refreshing to watch a fight scene on TV where I could actually tell what was going on from moment to moment. 

jdiggitty 1/21/2010 9:17:45 AM


Jackie was nominated for an Oscar for Little Children (07 I think). Jackie's performance is most uncomfortable, disturbing and unforgettable.

fft5305 1/21/2010 2:12:45 PM

From what I read when Jackie got Watchmen, he had trouble getting work once he grew out of the child actor phase.  So he formed his own company and began producing commercials and short films.  It wasn't until Little Children came around that someone thought of him for acting again.  Thank God, cuz he was incredible in that!  Then, of course, was Watchmen.  And Nightmare.  And this.

The pilot episode kicked some major ass for television.  Excellent fight scenes.  Good action over all.  Interesting characters, good acting.  I've already set a series recording for this. Hopefully, coming after Idol, this show will actually have a chance at building an audience so Fox won't yank it after 3 episodes.



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