Hostages had such great potential, but sluggish pacing and bland performances drag it down.

2013-10-05_1808It’s so disappointing that Hostages fails to deliver.

The premise had great potential but there are just too many bad choices that clip its wings.

Toni Collette stars as Dr. Ellen Sanders, who is due to operate on the President of the United States (James Naughton). She lives an affluent life in Washington DC, married to real estate man Brian (Tate Donovan) who both parent three two kids, Morgan (Quinn Shephard) and Jake (Mateus Ward). They’ve got the double-storey house, the pet dog and everything but a Latino maid -maybe it was her day off.

But the American dream comes crashing down in the opening scene when hooded thugs break into their home and hold them at gunpoint. The dream becomes a nightmare, whereupon we travel back 12 hours earlier.

The other central character in this saga is FBI Special Agent Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott) a cracking hostage negotiator but whose wife is undergoing chemotherapy. It’s really not that much of a Spoiler to tell you that it isn’t Carlisle who steps in to rescue the Sanders family. It’s Carlisle who is behind the home invasion, unmasking himself very early in the plot.

Carlisle wants Sanders to ensure the President dies during surgery, although it’s not immediately clear why. If she doesn’t do as he asks, her family gets it. Again, as a basic premise this has high stakes and cleverly makes it personal, but the pacing is sluggish and the performances are bland. Some of the dialogue is straight out of the Hollywood Big Adventure Book of Dialogue.

Padding out the opening episode are various back-stories involving the family members. Some have secrets that will be used against them. We get a glimpse of the President and his First Lady, an under-utilised Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

But if the actions of the central characters in the first hour don’t ring true to a family who has just been terrorised (this surgeon adopts the skills of a seasoned special agent) then the second episode asks for some serious leaps of faith of its audience.

It does all this without the sense of popcorn fun of a series like 24, and without any of the layered tension of Homeland, and certainly none of its performances. While Collette adequately trembles as a mother in fear, McDermott finds one villainous note and plays it across the hour. Tate Donovan, who was excellent in Damages, is dull.

The quality of the episode I viewed was also dimly lit, adding to the claustrophobic feel.

Nine will screen this as a double episode after back-tracking on its original premiere last week. I have to say the first hour was more engaging than the second, which had dull sub-plots and lacked action.

It’s hard to believe that having someone like Toni Collette this could be so lacklustre, but Jerry Bruckheimer has managed to pull it off. That’s almost worth a half-a-star in itself.

Hostages airs 8:30pm Wednesday on Nine.

13 Responses

  1. Wasn’t going to watch as it is on 9 anyway, but I am less disappointed now, thanks David.

    Why does there seem to be less and less mini-series nowadays. To me, this storyline seems to be a struggle to hold for more than a few episodes (and hence the need for the padding you mention, David). What is wrong with just telling the story, getting it over with and then moving on?

  2. @jtshadow65
    FOX commissioned The Following and buys the distribution rights for the USA. The production companies get some of their revenue from FOX’s payments, but also by selling the OS and DVD rights for the show, and they carry much of the risk.

    The Following was made by Bonanza Productions a company that was contracted to actually make the TV show by Kevin Williams production company Outerbanks Entertainments.

    This was done in association with WB, who run studios used for production and would have done the financing and distribution. They make stuff for all the networks. Nine has a $500m p.a. output deal for all of WB’s output (though it is up for renegotiation soon).

    In many cases the production is done by the production company owned by the networks parent company e.g. ABC Studios (owned by Disney) makes a lot of the shows for the ABC Network, but not always.

  3. Sorry it was The Black List that was distributed by Sony. The SMH Guide confirms today that Seven got it by picking it from Sony, under their agreement with them.

    Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D was distributed by DIsney/ABC studios and Seven got it through their output deal with them.

  4. well tv is subjective everyone has there opinions i still watch it because it just fell the void & Pertinax how do you explain how the show the following went to 9 when its a fox show

  5. @carolemorrissey
    It is decided by by output deals, where the networks get the output from certain US producers/distributors.

    Nine currently gets all WB stuff, so got Hostages.

    Seven got The Black List because they have a deal with Universal for picks of NBC (and Studios USA). And they have a deal that covers ABC so they get Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

    Ten has a deal with CBS so they get Under The Dome, and for picks of FOX shows so they got Sleepy Hollow.

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