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Sex and thrills can't energize derivative 'Banshee'

Cinemax

By Alec Stern, For the Daily
Published January 18, 2013

New drama “Banshee” is Cinemax’s latest attempt to break into the original programming game. From producer Alan Ball of “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood,” the show follows a paroled jewel thief turned small-town sheriff. Though its pedigree is Cinemax’s most impressive, it’s clear after the first hour what “Banshee” is: a show done time and time again. It’s no wonder HBO passed.

What “Banshee” does do right is establish a tone early on. Even before the opening credit sequence rolls, there’s sex, violence and a car chase through New York City. The action genre has worked for Cinemax in the past with original series “Strike Back,” and it’s clear they have stuck with the familiar for this project as well.

The protagonist (newcomer Antony Starr) is an unnamed criminal recently released from prison who later assumes the identity of Lucas Hood. But first, he tracks down past love, Carrie (Ivana Miličević, “Vegas”), to Banshee, Pa. Not only does Hood learn that Carrie’s married with two children, but she doesn’t even have the 10-million dollars worth of diamonds she was supposed to save for him. With nowhere to go, Hood ends up in a bar owned by former boxer Sugar Bates (Frankie Faison, “The Silence of the Lambs”). The two bond over whiskey and a common prison stint until the real Lucas Hood enters.

Miličević is strong in her role as a woman torn between her former love and her new family. When Hood remakes his acquaintance with her, he’s a little angry, though perhaps not as much as he should be — something viewers will have to get used to. Starr is pretty one-faced throughout, save for a faint smirk towards the end.

“Banshee” seems to hit its mark with the action sequences, which are both thrilling and abundant. However, a handful of adept fight scenes are not enough to carry this show. The plot comes together when Hood steals the identity of the murdered, would-be sheriff in order to disappear from two mysterious Russian men, who chase him through Manhattan at the beginning of the episode.

The rest of the episode is pretty standard stuff: It’s clichéd, predictable and amazingly uninteresting. Hood enlists Job (Hoon Lee, “Premium Rush”), a transvestite salon owner and computer-hacker-slash-mastermind, to help him with his identity change. A Russian man called Mr. Rabbit (Ben Cross, “Chariots of Fire”) desperately tries to hunt down Carrie and the man who is supposedly Lucas Hood. Hood then learns that he must bring down crime lord Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen, “The Thing”), an antagonist so clearly ripped off from “Breaking Bad” villain Gustavo Fring, arguably one of the greatest antagonists in television history.

There are a ton of these characters, all of which are thinly developed and only moderately intriguing. They seem too reminiscent of characters on other shows. As a whole, “Banshee” comes up short and, unlike Lucas Hood himself, it doesn’t pack much of a punch.

If you’re into the sex-and-violence premium cable routine, you can probably get past the unoriginality of “Banshee.” But if you’re a fan of great writing and dynamic characters, and are looking for a badass lawman with a small-town feel, just watch “Justified.”