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.