Monday, September 11, 2006

TV: Standoff

I haven't made much of an effort to follow through on my threat to watch all the new Fall TV shows, the way I did last year. I haven't had as much TV time lately as I usually do -- nor blogging time for that matter, as any fool can plainly see*. One show I did watch is Fox's Standoff, and I'll tell you what: it did not make me regret my diminished TV viewing.

Standoff stars Ron Livingston and Rosemarie DeWitt as two hostage negotiators who are secretly having an affair. During the pilot episode's opening hostage crisis, Livingston negotiates with a father holding his two sons at gunpoint (I got a kick out of seeing Tom Wopat as the dad). And then Livingston, for no reason -- for no damn reason -- reveals to Wopat, and everyone listening in on the recorded conversation, the affair he's been having with his partner. It makes absolutely no sense, and it makes Livingston's character seem very poorly suited to his career. His reasoning is he wants to open up to the gunman, make a connection, keep him at ease, but it's not believable on so many levels (that this ploy would work, that Livingston couldn't have used a different tactic, that Livingston couldn't have just made up a similar story, while still keeping his affair a secret...). It just bugged the hell out of me. Before we even get to the first commercial, this show has lost me. And it didn't make much of an effort to win me back.

I've liked Livingston for a long time, even before his career-defining role in Office Space, and some small portion of his humor and charisma works its way through into this show. DeWitt, whom I've never seen before, is just okay; she didn't wow me, but she didn't irritate me. The chemistry between the two of them is mild at best, which is a drawback in a show built around the passions of its main characters. Gina Torres, from Angel, Firefly, and last season's The Shield (she was Forest Whitaker's awesomely crazy ex-wife) also stars; she plays Livingston and DeWitt's boss, who inexplicably does not fire or even separate the two of them after their affair becomes public knowledge. Torres does the best she can with an unrewarding role.

After the crisis at the top of the show (or, as it would be called on MacGyver, the "Opening Gambit"), a second crisis occupies the remainder of the episode. It involves a supposed Islamic suicide bomber, who actually turns out to be a Senator's son who wants attention from mommy. If this show is going to depend on its hostage takers and hostages to carry a large portion of the drama, it's going to have to do better than this. Very routine set-up, follow-through, and resolution. Nothing surprised me, nothing interested me. Even the twist on the hostage taker's identity felt like a mediocre attempt to push buttons without really having a Muslim be the bad guy.

Nothing about this show is essential. Both Livingston and Torres could do much better, and they're the only halfway interesting parts of the show. If I ever see a second episode of Standoff, it will be purely by accident.

Rating: 4 out of 10

*I can plainly see that!

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