Last night, after I got back from dance class, I watched the first episode of the new CBS series, Hostages.
Why Was I Watching It?
I spent the last three months watching and reviewing Big Brother for the Big Brother Blog. During every episode of Big Brother, CBS would show at least one commercial for Hostages. It was obvious that CBS was obsessed with the idea of making Hostages into the show that the entire nation would be watching and debating, a bit like a network TV version of Homeland or Breaking Bad.
The commercials, for the most part, all featured Dylan McDermott looking grim while Toni Collette frowned and, occasionally, some old white guy would tell Collette that she was the only doctor he trusted to operate on her and she would reply, “Thank you, Mr. President.” In short, the commercials made the show look terrible. The only question was whether or not Hostages would be intentionally bad or unintentionally awful.
Last night, I got my answer.
What Was It About?
President Paul Kinkaid (James Naughton) needs to have surgery and, of course, only one doctor can perform the operation. That doctor is Ellen Saunders (Toni Collette). Ellen is so concerned with the President’s health that she doesn’t realize that her husband (Tate Donovan) is having an affair, her son is selling weed, and her daughter is pregnant.
Meanwhile, Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott) is a FBI hostage negotiator. When we first see him, he’s gunning down a bank robber and smirking while he does it. It turns out that Duncan needs money to take care of his sick wife.
Eventually, Duncan and a team of other black-clad operatives end up inside the Saunders home where they take the entire family hostage. They tell Ellen that, if she wants to save her family, she must assassinate the President…
The show turned out to be just as bad as I was expecting it to be! Whenever I saw the commercials for Hostages, I would think to myself: “That looks like it’s going to be a really boring, tedious series.” Judging from the pilot, I was right. It always feels good to be right.
That said, I do have to say that, alone among the cast, Dylan McDermott seems to understand that he’s playing a ludicrous character in a silly show and — much as he did in American Horror Story — he responds by giving an appropriately melodramatic performance. While the rest of the cast appeared to be convinced that they were appearing in the next Homeland, McDermott seemed to be enjoying a joke that only he and the viewing audience could understand.
What Did Not Work?
If there’s even been a show that would obviously benefit from an over-the-top, melodramatic approach, it would be Hostages. So, why did the pilot appear to be taking itself so damn seriously? As I watched last night’s episode, I found myself wondering if anyone involved in the show (other than Dylan McDermott) understood just how silly this all was. Instead, the show moved at an almost somber pace and all of the actors (again, with the notable exception of McDermott) delivered their lines with the type of gravity that one would usually associate with Jeff Daniels delivering one of Aaron Sorkin’s pompous polemical speeches on The Newsroom. Considering all of the melodramatic potential of this show’s plot, Hostages really has no excuse to be as boring and predictable as it was last night.
Toni Collette is one of my favorite actresses so it was kind of sad to see her give such a boring performance in the lead role of Ellen Saunders. Then again, as written, Ellen Saunders is a pretty boring character. It’s as if the show’s producers and writers were so proud of creating a professional woman that they didn’t notice that they neglected to give her a personality.
Finally, the President is just some boring old white guy. What’s up with that?
“Oh my God! Just like me!” Moments
I was tempted to say that, like the family in Hostages, I would totally freak out if a bunch of people appeared in the house, pointed their guns at me, and announced that they were holding me hostage. However, it then occurred to me that nobody in Hostages really freaked out about being held hostage. They were certainly annoyed and occasionally, they even attempted to be defiant. But they never really freaked out.
Nor could I really see much of myself in the character of Ellen Saunders or her daughter. Since neither one of them came across as being anything more than a two-dimensional plot device, neither one of them was capable of inspiring any “just like me” moments.
I tried to relate to Sandrine Holt, who plays Maria, the only female hostage taker. However, Maria spent most of the episode carrying around a gun and, while I’m totally into the 2nd amendment, I’m not really into guns.
Then I remembered that, early on in the episode, Ellen’s daughter talks to her best friend. The friend takes one look at her and says, “Your eyes are puffy,” which is the exact same thing that I would say if one of my friends had puffy eyes.
So, that was my “Oh my God! Just like me!” moment.
Sometimes, commercials don’t lie.