The pilot for NBC’s The Player reminded me of trying to play checkers with chess pieces. The rules are still the same on paper and you can find some enjoyment out of it. Ultimately though, it works much better with the original pieces. Too much of this episode contained elements that were better utilized on other shows. The central conceit, an agency able to calculate and predict crimes, would be worthwhile if it wasn’t for the limited runtime. Then again, there’s enough “story” in here to warrant multiple episodes. What could have been a season’s worth of explaining an underground gambling ring is presented within the time span of going to the fridge and back.
The aforementioned agency, named “The House”, is run by the mysterious Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes). Thanks to the wonders of technology and the finances of “one percenters”, Johnson and co. both predict and bet on crimes. The titular player is Alex Kane (Philip Winchester), a former FBI agent who catches bad guys by thinking like them (sound familiar Hannibal fans?). After his ex-wife is murdered, Kane is chosen to be Johnson’s player. Kane is tasked with stopping crimes so that gamblers can bet on whether or not he will be successful. In this episode, he’s assigned to stop a kidnapping that may have ties to the murder of his ex-wife.
Even though I was wide awake and fully attentive, I found most of this to be convoluted and unengaging. I understand that this premise is very outlandish, but there’s no logic whatsoever. The gamblers place bets on statistical crimes, but for some reason also call off police cars and helicopters. They can also get Alex Kane, a murder suspect, off scot-free. Kane is portrayed as so much of a good guy that all he needs is an American flag waving behind him as he dives through windows. His tragic back story is plucked from every story of a hero losing his ex-wife. There’s a lot of story crammed into this pilot which explains the erratic pacing and jumbled storytelling. Information is dispersed either really quickly or in a confusing manner.
I would be more forgiving of the storytelling if the action sequences were excellent. Compared to some other action oriented pilots, such as Strike Back, the action scenes in this episode are below average. The big car chase scene following Kane’s escape from the hospital is very choppy and disjointed. The over reliance on quick cuts and choppy editing is a personal pet peeve of mine that sadly has carried over to TV. Action scenes should tell a story all their own and not come off as simply breaks in the story. Kane is also not an interesting or originally drawn protagonist, further hindering the rather watered down action set pieces. If I don’t care about the characters when they’re in danger, why should I bother watching?
Wesley Snipes is the one element that I found myself liking. Amidst the confusion and some really awful gambling puns, Snipes comes off as mysterious and charismatic, especially when he is helping Kane towards the ending. Winchester, who works well on Strike Back, appears hamstrung by the poor dialogue and lack of dimension given to his character. Actors can only draw so much interest if the surroundings lack compelling elements.
Speaking of which, just when this episode gets really interesting, it’s during the final five minutes. Kane is given the opportunity to become an “official player” to save lives but leads to an inevitable demise. The moral quandary presented there is the kind of smart philosophizing I was hoping to see for this entire episode. It’s almost enough to make me want to continue watching to see where this goes. However, the overall quality of this pilot makes me question if this show will even continue for a lengthy period of time.