‘The Blacklist’ review

| TV Editor

When: Mondays, 9:00 pm
Channel: NBC
[rating stars="4"]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9_qgX7pTlc

Now is not a great time for network dramas—just look at the lack of network shows in the Outstanding Drama Series category at this year’s Emmys. While bold cable series like “Breaking Bad” and “Homeland” have been capturing viewers’ attention over the past few years, the major networks have been desperately trying (and, so far, failing) to recreate the success of shows like “24” and “Lost.” NBC’s “The Blacklist” probably won’t reverse that trend, but it might be a step in the right direction.

“The Blacklist” stars James Spader as Raymond “Red” Reddington, a creepy government-agent-turned-supercriminal who surrenders himself to the FBI at the beginning of the first episode. Reddington says he wants to help the FBI capture other criminals, and he promises to tell the bureau everything he knows under the condition that he only speak with rookie agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone, “Law & Order: Los Angeles”). The pilot centers on Reddington’s first tip, regarding a long-thought-dead terrorist who plans to abduct a general’s daughter and use her as a pawn in a bomb plot.

Mysteries abound throughout the episode. Why did Reddington suddenly leave behind his family and career to become a criminal so many years ago? Why is he now surrendering and volunteering to help the FBI? And why is he so obsessed with Keen, who appears to have no connection to him? The pilot actually does hint at an answer to this last question (Reddington left behind a daughter and Keen references having raised herself; you do the math), but the explanation seems almost too obvious to be true. Either way, it’s clear that creator and executive producer Jon Bokenkamp has more than enough plot points to spin into at least a full season.

NBC seems to be banking on the success of “The Blacklist” as well, given the way the struggling network splurged on the series. But even with all its special-effects-laden action sequences and gut-wrenching stunts, the show’s strength lies in its characters and its psychological elements. Spader takes creepiness to a new level in the Hannibal Lecter-esque Reddington, playing him with just the right amount of arrogance and aloofness. Boone is also great as Keen, deftly balancing her feistiness (see: Keen impulsively stabbing Reddington in the neck with a pen) with her compassion (see: Keen consoling the general’s kidnapped daughter). So far, the most compelling part of the show is the evolving relationship between these two characters as Keen learns to trust Reddington’s methods and “think like a criminal.”

Of course, “The Blacklist” doesn’t skimp on the suspense. The pilot is chock-full of plot twists and cliffhangers, probably more than are necessary in an hour-long show. Many of these twists deal with Keen’s husband, Tom (Ryan Eggold, “90210”), who, by the end of the episode, bears little resemblance to the gentle family man we met at the beginning. Although the plot is constantly shifting direction, the action is paced well, with Reddington finally revealing one of his main motives—the eponymous “blacklist” of criminals that he wants to take down—at the very end of the episode. “The Blacklist” is suspenseful and complex, with interesting characters and a promising storyline. It’s not exactly revolutionary, and the overall feel is much more “Criminal Minds” than “Homeland,” but it might be the network drama to watch this season.