'The Blacklist' Series Premiere Review: James Spader Steals The Show (Again)

At first glance, The Blacklist appears to be another high-action-counter-terrorism show that resembles similar programs such as Homeland and 24. However, like those series, The Blacklist has unique and complex layers of story and character development that could make it one of the best new series of the year.

Raymond 'Red' Reddington (James Spader) is a former government agent who mysteriously went rogue several years ago, abandoning his family on Christmas Eve to work with terrorists. There is no rhyme or reason why he turned traitor, only that he's now back in the hands of the Federal Government and will only speak with a young woman named Elizabeth 'Liz' Keen (Megan Boone).

Liz is an up and coming agent who is trying to adopt a child with her husband Tom (Ryan Eggold). Her first encounter with Red is a dramatic one, as she quickly realizes that he knows more than he should about Liz's personal life. Spader is chewing dialogue like he knows this show is his, and rightfully so. At times, his performance can be hammy; however, Spader is so talented that this can be forgiven, as we quickly realize that he not only has the F.B.I. in his hands, but the viewing audience as well.

Boone unleashes as stellar performance of her own, showcasing her ability to be calm, ferocious, and vulnerable all at the same time. In an era where television is in desperate need of more strong female characters, Boone is a shinning example of what that can look like when done well. The most surprising aspect from the premiere was the episode's focus on the importance of family.

Stopping terrorists in intense situations can be exhilarating for a time, but there has to be a connection with the characters on screen, or else the tension is for naught. Early on, we discover that Boone has abandonment issues, and is attempting to fix her past by adopting a child of her own. Though it's not stated in the episode, it could be assumed that Red is Liz's long lost father. Is the show hinting too hard at that realization? With that being said, one of the best scenes was when Harry Lennix (Harold Cooper) asked Liz to profile herself. What better way to get to know a character than to have her break down who she is; faults and all.

NBC's The Blacklist is a network series that's not playing it safe. Liz is one of the more complex female characters on television, for one minute she's comforting a General's daughter who's about to be kidnapped, to stabbing Red in the neck in order to ascertain more information about why her husband was attacked. Hopefully, The Blacklist will do well in the ratings game so we can learn more about Liz.

The family dynamic bleeds into the terrorist elements as well. A fanatical man named Ranko Zamani (Jamie Jackson) has a vendetta with a U.S. General who was responsible for innocent children being killed. Some of those children were Zamani's and he wants to not only hurt the General's daughter, but hundreds of children at the zoo, in order for them to experience the same pain he is feeling. Again, family is everything in this episode, and will most likely be one of the central themes of the season.

Like many new series, The Blacklist has its mysteries to uncover. In this case, it's Red's list of terrorists, mobsters and other miscreants that are a part of a much bigger plan. Mysteries shrouded in darkness, or clouded in abstractness are not always a good formula for a show to follow. For every Lost, there's a Revolution and The Event. Who Liz's husband really is does not carry the same importance of who Liz is as a person. She and Reddington are far more interesting.

For this show to succeed, it will need to find a balance between uncovering the mysteries while developing its characters. Lost was at its best when it succeeded in that arena. Can 'The Blacklist' do the same? Find out next week. 


The Blacklist continues next week with 'The Freelancer' @10pm on NBC.

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