Episode Title: 'Pilot'
Writers: Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler
Director: Greg Yaitanes
Everyone's getting into the original programming act these days and Cinemax's latest attempt, "Banshee," is a pulpy, full-throttle crime drama that has the unmistakable touch of its executive producer, Alan Ball.
Set in the small, Pennsylvania Dutch town from which it gets its name, "Banshee" is about an ex-con thief (Antony Starr) who heads to the pastoral town to reconnect with his old flame and former partner, now living under the false identity of Carrie Hopewell (Ivana Milicevic) mother of two and wife of Banshee’s district attorney, Gordon Hopewell (Rus Blackwell).
The first few minutes of "Banshee," in which we see the future Lucas Hood released from jail, feel like a cut scene from "Grand Theft Auto III." We see Lucas grab a beer, have sex with a bar maid, steal a muscle car, cause a double-decker bus to topple in lower Manhattan while evading Ukrainian gangster and former boss, "Mr. Rabbit’s" suited-up thug and then knocking a rider off his motorcycle and stealing it to ride off to Pennsylvania Dutch country.
With a set-up like that, it’s hard to like Lucas Hood at first, despite being a supreme badass. That changes later on when we see the kinder, though not much gentler side of Hood. Stopping by another roadside bar, after stalking Carrie in her backyard, Lucas meets its owner, former boxer Sugar Bates (Frankie Faison). Sugar finds Lucas to be a quick study and pegs him for an ex-con, like himself. But before their bonding session can go any further, the real Lucas Hood comes in and introduces himself.
Shortly thereafter, local businessman and gangster, Kai Proctor’s thugs come in looking for protection money from Sugar. A fight breaks out leaving Hood and Proctor’s men dead. Sugar decides to deal with the bodies himself, instead of calling the police and Lucas helps him. While burying the dead sheriff, Lucas hears his phone ring, answers it and decides to take on his identity in that moment. He repays Sugar for helping him and going along with the con by getting his boxing title belt back from a pawn shop.
Part "Road House," part "Catch Me If You Can," "Banshee" almost feels like a cross between "Twin Peaks," Alan Ball’s "True Blood," and "Justified." I know that’s a lot of comparisons, but it’s hard to not call this show derivative. That’s not to say it’s bad; in fact the pilot was super fun and definitely has me excited to see more. The tone and feel of the show is really what I’m referring to in the aforementioned comparisons.
Story-wise, "Banshee" asks us to go along with some pretty wild possibilities. Like how can a man who just sat in jail for fifteen years pull off impersonating a sheriff? After all, in the decade and a half Lucas Hood was inside, things like Google, Facebook and smartphones were developed. Lucky for Hood, the old, dead Hood didn’t have any family. And Lucas has a tranny hairdresser hacker associate back in New York who owes him a few favors. And thus, our ex-con is able to smoothly transition into his new law enforcement identity.
Of course, now that he’s established himself as the sheriff, Lucas needs an enemy and a love interest. Luckily, both are right in town. Lucas came to Banshee to find Carrie so their storyline was already built in. But Banshee’s also got an exiled-Pennsylvania Dutch businessman, Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen) who basically runs the place. No sheriff has been able to stand up to him, as Proctor has everyone on payroll. Which is why the original Lucas Hood was drafted from way out in Oregon.
Making things even more complicated is Lucas’ old boss, Mr. Rabbit (Ben Cross) trying to shake down Hood’s cross/hairdresser friend, Job (Hoon Lee). But Job’s just as dangerous and clever as Lucas, as we saw when he blew up his own hacker compound, with Rabbit’s henchmen inside.
"Banshee" isn’t going to get high marks for realism or plausibility, but heck, neither does Alan Ball’s hit "True Blood." Just because this show doesn’t have vampires, fairies and werewolves doesn’t mean it can’t take creative license to the limit. Stacked with a cast of competent though mostly unknown actors ("The Wire’s" Frankie Faison and TV vet, Ivana Milicevic were the only names I immediately recognized), the "Banshee" pilot introduced us to a rogues' gallery of potentially great characters. And I’m down to spend some more time in this little Pennsylvania Dutch town and see what kind of trouble they’ll start up.