Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Crazy Like a Fox

Posted by Don MacPherson on January 16th, 2010

Human Target TV series pilot
Starring: Mark Valley, Chi McBride & Jackie Earle Haley
Director: Simon West
Broadcaster: Fox

DC’s Human Target property is adapted for the small screen for the second time, and judging from the pilot, it’s probably not going to last much longer than the 1992 TV series of the same name that starred rocker/actor Rick Springfield. This new take on TV’s Human Target looks promising on paper, given the strength of a couple of key cast members, but the end result is a generic action-adventure show. It’s so formulaic that the viewer is taken right out of the story. The dangers are often contrived, and low production values hinder the cool factor that the makers are clearly hoping to attain. Movie director Simon West is clearly unable to achieve the big-screen flavor the producers are looking for, no doubt due to budget limitations.

Human Target is entirely miss-able, but given Fox’s track record of dumping genre shows quickly, I wonder if viewers are even going to bother investing their time in this latest foray.

Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) is a bodyguard who inserts himself into the lives of his clients, waiting for assassins to reveal themselves as they stalk their prey. His modus operandi is to strike at the last moment, to eliminate the threat before it can claim its intended victim, with the support of his handler Winston (Chi McBride) and the skills of freelance hacker/investigator Guerrero (Jackie Earle Hale). A hired killer is out to eliminate his latest client (Tricia Helfer), an engineer who’s designed America’s first bullet train. As Chance fends off attacks on the speeding train’s inaugural run, he and his colleagues work to solve the mystery of who hired the assassin.

This TV show is linked to the DC comic book pretty much in name alone. Yes, in the comics, Chance also protects those who’ve been targeted for death, but he does so by replacing them with the use of elaborate disguises and a deep psychological transformation. There’s none of that in this TV show. It’s easy to see why: why would a star sign on to do a show in which his character rarely wears the star’s own face? Still, that psychological aspect is lacking here, save for the suggestion that Valley’s incarnation of Chance has a death wish.

Valley’s profile on TV has risen in the last few years with spotlighted roles on Boston Legal and Fringe. Unfortunately, being centre stage in his own show has highlighted his stiffness. His attempts to portray Chance as a thrill junkie or as a tortured soul fall flat. Valley might make a good stoic, all-American hero type a la Captain America, but he just doesn’t seem to have the personality for much more. Chi McBride is wasted here, playing the same kind of character we’ve seen him portray in the past. His presence in this show just made me miss his last project, Pushing Daisies, all the more. Jackie Earle Haley stands out as compared to the other performers, as he brings a weird intensity to the show. It doesn’t really fit, and his participation makes McBride’s character completely superfluous.

The plotting is awkward and contrived. The circumstances that lead the bullet train to become a death trap are painfully difficult to swallow, and all of the characters are portrayed as being far too skilled and uber-aware. The script almost portrays Chance as being superhuman, and that makes the character less interesting, not more interesting.

Given the debut of this new show, DC has been reprinting some of its more recent Human Target comics, namely, those written by Peter Milligan. He brought an interesting psychological component to the property during its time as a Vertigo property. He portrayed Chance as a man lacking identity who easily lost himself in the roles he played as part of his job. It brought an edgier and thought-provoking quality to the property as well as the potential to turn every story into a two-faceted character study (of Chance himself and of the person he impersonated). It’s a shame there wasn’t something of that brainier approach in this TV show. Of course, the disconnect between the premises in these two different media probably won’t help DC move many books either. 3/10

Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.

4 Responses to “Crazy Like a Fox”

  1. Human Target Debuts Tomorrow » DVDs Worth Watching Says:

    […] also an Army veteran who knows how to properly fight and hold a gun.”) On the other hand, Don MacPherson didn’t like it, calling it too formulaic and citing “low production values”. I […]

  2. Esteban Pedreros Says:

    I believe this is the first time I post a comment on your blog, although I’ve been reading your reviews for quite a few years now (from back when you and Randy had The Fourth Rail website).

    Well, I haven’t seen this show, and I doubt I will, but what called my attention was your comment about Mark Valley’s talent as an actor. I don’t know if you’ve seen a show called Keen Eddie, it was pretty good, kind of reminiscent of a Guy Ritchie movie, but lasted only a few episodes. I believe it was a mid season replacement a few years back a feature Valley, Sienna Miller and Colin Salmon (among others). Back then I liked his acting and I thought he had the charm to be the lead actor on a show, but the work he did after that only supports the criticism you made.

  3. Anthony Boulton Says:

    I was a big fan of the Vertigo series and was disappointed on the elimination of Chance’s impersonation skills. I understand why FOX did it, but they could have cast high-profile actors to portray the “target” each week and add greater sophistication to the scripts. There is no connection to the comic book other than the main character’s name and the show’s opening title sequence.

    As a TV show, it’s passable action fare. I enjoyed the second episode featuring the rescue of a passenger jet far more than the pilot. Mark Valley’s Christopher Chance won’t make us forget Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer though.

  4. mrpeepants Says:

    I remember seeing a promo for this around or sometime after finding out Dollhouse was cancelled. just left me confused