Cecilia Charendoff, contributing writer
“The Player” opens with a man lying dead in the desert. We do not know how he got there, nor is it ever explained, but we do learn he is a disappointment to the enigmatic Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes). This feels like a fitting opening because the pilot of “The Player” is generally a disappointment to its audience.
We first meet Alex Kane (Phillip Winchester) when he jumps off a rooftop and crashes through a window in order to provide security insight to his high-risk clients. Alex’s character is as flat and stereotypical as they come. He’s seen and done some bad things, killed some people, knows how to escape handcuffs in under 10 seconds, and has the gravelly whisper and dramatic timing of a tortured soul. He’s not compelling, but he pulls off his multitude action scenes well.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the episode was the use of Alex’s ex-wife Ginny (Daisy Betts). As a doctor who has a complicated relationship with her ex husband, Ginny should be a compelling character. However, in the 10 minutes she’s on screen, she has sex with Alex and then promptly gets killed in a predictable attempt to drive the plot forward. Using a female character as a plot device is unfortunately commonplace in entertainment, but “The Player” doesn’t even attempt to get creative with it. The show does attempt to redeem itself with a plot twist at the end of the episode, but it’s too late, Alex already proclaimed that Ginny “saved him” in a way that shows that, even if the character weren’t dead, she would still only be around to help along Alex’s plotline.
Alex is arrested for Ginny’s murder, but is rescued by Cassandra King (Charity Wakefield) who takes him to Mr. Johnson and explains that they are part of an organization that predicts crime and allows the wealthy to bet on the outcome. They want Alex to be one side of that bet, using his skills to attempt to thwart the prediction. The arrangement ensures no lack of action scenes and moral questions about using humans as entertainment. Cassandra and Mr. Johnson are most interesting part of the episode, but are given flat writing to work with, especially since they provide all of the shows exposition.
“The Player” would be better suited to a 2-hour action movie. It’s plot development felt rushed and shallow, and in trying to make it’s characters layered and mysterious, it just made them uninteresting. There is a lot set up to be revisited later in the season, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like there’s much else to explain. The hour felt like a condensed action movie that had been hollowed out to fit the major plot points in. “The Player” feels like a show you’ve watched before. Or maybe a show based off a movie you’ve watched before. Either way, it’s nothing new, and maybe its only redeeming quality is that it doesn’t pretend to be such.
Catch “The Player” on NBC on Thursday, Sept 24, 10/9c, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Cecelia Charendoff is a Contributing Writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org