Hostages is CBS’ new thriller, focusing on Dr. Ellen Sanders, a talented surgeon about to perform surgery on the President of the United States (United States of Tara‘s very own Toni Collette). Certain people in power seek to exploit this arrangement, and a team headed by FBI Special Agent Duncan Carlisle invade the Sanders house. Carlisle takes Ellen aside and tells her than in exchange for her family’s safety, she’s going to have to make a little fuck-whoopsie during surgery and eliminate the President. DUN DUN DUN.
Hostages sounds like a pretty good concept on paper. It has it all, from government conspiracies, a team of goons with machine guns, surgeons, and even ultimatums! I wouldn’t have been surprised to see this sort of plot crop up on 24, which it kind of did, during the first season, although that was a presidential candidate, not the man himself. Anyway, I digress. Unfortunately, the pilot didn’t deliver on such a potentially delicious premise, and I found myself thinking the words no writer wants their audience to think: “I don’t care what about what happens to any of these people.”
The acting is a big, big problem here. It’s flat at best, and overblown melodrama at worst. Toni Collette isn’t much to write home about, and neither is Tate Donovan as her husband, Brian. Good ol’ Tate hits every beat in the Generic Protective Yet Powerless Husband Handbook with about as much vigor as a lethargic sea cucumber. The Sanders family also has two annoying children, their daughter Morgan, who is doing her very best to hide her teen pregnancy, and their son Jake, who is apparently dealing weed and owes money to bad people that he now cannot pay back, what with the whole home invasion deal. Both of their storylines seem to be well on their way to becoming irritating distractions from the rest of the show. I hate the little buggers already.
That brings us to Dylan McDermott as Carlisle. The pilot does its very best to show what a cool, badass, renegade maverick he is with his work at the Bureau, but it just comes off as trying too damn hard to build the character up in the audience’s eyes. They’ve also tried to give him something of a family man angle. He has a wife in a coma and a daughter he sent off to be with Grandpa during this whole business. It’s not clear what happened to the wife, but I’m sure we’ll find out. It’s just hard to take the man seriously when he stumps around the house looking like a slightly constipated David Schwimmer.
Hostages has certainly done its damndest to pack this first episode with “intriguing tidbits” for later use. The super-bad weed dealers for the son, Morgan’s pregnancy, which will no doubt be a reveal timed for maximum drama, Brian’s affair. Every family member has their own dirty little secrets. Carlisle’s got his own, too. What happened to his wife? Why does the Grandpa seem to be in on the conspiracy? If only I cared about the answers to all these questions, but I guess time will tell.
I’m also concerned about the long-term potential of the series. Sure, by the end of the episode, Ellen has managed to delay the surgery date by a few weeks. Disappointing, but fine. But this is an entire family being kept prisoner in their own home. I have a hard time believing that this arrangement can last the full season, let alone an entire series, should it manage to stay on the air. If it’s going to last, then sooner or later Hostages is going to have to reinvent itself and find a new premise, because this one definitely has limited shelf life.
Here’s hoping Hostages improves as the series goes on, and learns to take better advantage of its premise. There’s some potential here, if they really try. Watching the pilot was very much like being trapped in a house full of vaguely annoying people for an hour, and if it keeps on like this the masters of the Geekenstein lab might just have to take me hostage before I’ll watch any more of this.