The Player (Thursdays, 10/9C) is NBC’s latest ludicrous crime show – like The Blacklist and this season’s other off-the-wall series Blindspot it’s meant to be an action-packed hour that takes an almost reasonable sounding premise and blow it up for our entertainment.
Ludicrous, I might add, does not mean bad – The Blacklist is one of the most purely entertaining, high-energy shows on network television. The Player may not, quite, be another Blacklist, but it is an hour of supercharged fun.
The premise is that there is a system that has been devised by the very rich (say, the 1% of the 1%, or maybe the .1% of the 1%) to predict crime and bet one it – because all the other games of the very rich have become boring. To keep the game fresh, it is set up like a micro-casino (appropriate because it’s headquartered on an inaccessible floor of a casino) – the House is always comprised of three parties: the Pit Boss, The Dealer and The Player.
The series premiere opens with a very stylish black man looking at a body on the ground in the desert near Las Vegas and saying, ‘I’m very disappointed.’
We cut to a hotel where a Middle Eastern royal family is being told by Las Vegas Police Detective Cal Brown (Damon Gupton) that the department has been requested to insure the group’s safety. Their head of security insists that everything is under control – pointing out security measures under the direction of the head of the family.
They enter their sweet to find former military veteran/security expert Alex Kane (Philip Winchester) sitting inside calmly waiting for them. His recommendations for preventing someone else from emulating him go unheeded and an attack is made on the family – that he prevents.
After an evening with his ex-wife goes really well, he’s attacked and his wife murdered. Which, eventually, leads him to Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes) and Cassandra (Charity Wakefield), who present him with an opportunity based on a premise he declares to be impossible.
The next thing you know, he’s attempting to foil another attempt on the royal family – only it’s not quite successful. He saves the husband and wife, but their daughter is kidnapped. Better, he’s declared a suspect by the police and retreats to his wife’s house where he finds a clue that leads him to the House – and, once again, Mr. Johnson (the Pit Boss) and Cassandra (the Dealer), who explain the rules of the Game to him and set him to the task of saving the girl.
The player comes from the devious minds of John Rogers (Leverage, The Librarians) and John Fox (The Blacklist), so you know that they know how to set up a show and make it run. The script, by Rogers, is a lot of fun because it takes its premise seriously but has fun with both the characters and situations.
Winchester makes a solid flawed hero and plays Kane’s current desire to be a good person against the scars of his less than savory past in a thoroughly believable manner, while Wakefield plays Cassandra as the ice queen concealing just a flickering sense of humanity.
Snipes, though, is The Player’s James Spader. He is an utterly mercenary soul who is not the least bit perturbed to do whatever it takes to manipulate Kane into becoming the Game’s next Player. He’s also, through his connections with those very, very rich who are behind the Game, able to garner any official necessity (like, say, becoming an FBI agent to achieve an end) whenever required.
His amorality and Kane’s transformed morality are nicely balanced by Cassandra’s mix of each. Snipes, Winchester and Wakefield also enjoy a very satisfactory chemistry – we believe whatever the writing needs us to believe because they fit so well together.
The premiere was directed by Bharat Nalluri (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Spooks) with both muscle and flair – the action sequences are different enough to stand out and the character moments allow us to get a lot from a minimum of time.
Like The Blacklist, though, The Player will only succeed if it manages to go over-the-top big without losing the grounding that Winchester brings to the table, or the cool that Snipes and Wakefield provide. Rogers and Nalluri have set a pretty high bar for the series to match. I hope they can keep it up.
Final Grade: A-