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Hostages: TV Review

Hostages
CBS

The Bottom Line

It’s a pretty great first hour and if they can keep up the suspense before changing direction, it might be a feat worth watching every week.

Airdate

Mondays at 10 p.m. on CBS, beginning Sept. 23

The CBS drama starring Dylan McDermott and Toni Collette airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on CBS.

There’s certainly no getting around the dilemma posed by CBS’ excellent drama pilot Hostages: Is this a series, or something that would have been better as a two-hour movie?

The two dramas that stood far above the pack this fall were Hostages and NBC’s The Blacklist, but the latter is very clearly structured to be a procedural with a few overarching themes that weave into a bigger story that can be unraveled slowly. Hostages, on the other hand, has a premise that on the surface doesn’t seem to allow for much wiggle room, which immediately raised concerns about its long-term viability for viewers faced with an enormity of choices this fall (and the summer as well).

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Hostages is about a rogue FBI Agent named Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott) who hatches a plot to kill the president by kidnapping the family of the doctor, Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette), who will operating on the president the next day. It’s not a plan that was hatched overnight. He clearly had access to information that Sanders, not the president’s regular physician but one who will play well in the battle over public health care, would be the choice. He assembled a team that learned everything about every member of the family. And the coordinated taking of the family leaves the decision very simple for Sanders: Use this untraceable medicine we’re giving you to make it look like the president died on the operating table. Kill him and your family lives.

The interesting tactic that Hostages employs is that in the middle of this family takeover, with everybody under gunpoint by this secret team, Carlisle takes off his mask, as do the others. This immediately freaks out the family because, like everybody else, they’ve seen enough crime shows to know that if you see the faces of your kidnappers, you’re likely to die.

But Carlisle’s point speaks to the future of the series. You can see our faces, he says, because once this deed is done, we’re in this together. You’ll have killed the president, we’ll have achieved our (at this point murky) objective, and we’ll all go back to our lives. First one to break and spill the secret either gets killed or shamed and sent to jail for essentially assassinating the president.

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About three quarters of the way through Hostages, after I’d been wondering where this could possibly go for the long term (it’s not like you can hold an entire family hostage for weeks on end), it occurred to me what had to be done to make this more than a movie about killing the president.

However, that specific thing was not done. My thought at the time -- hmmm, interesting. You’re still painted into a corner, but maybe you just don’t want to get out in the first episode. I still think there’s time for Hostages to do what looks like needs to be done, and then it becomes something far deeper than what the pilot suggests.

Is that a good thing? Absolutely. Because the pilot suggests that the story can be told in a maximum two-hour time frame. If the writers go for the twist that seems absolutely essential for survival, then Hostages goes in a completely different direction that might be quite intriguing.

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But that’s the thing with pilots -- if you only get one, there’s no telling about the direction after that. But I have a good feeling that if the twist I think is coming actually does come, then Hostages will get a season’s pass. Hell, McDermott and Collette are enough of a sell. A good story only helps. Tate Donovan is also in the cast and proves that Carlisle’s people know every secret about the Sanders family and can use that to manipulate their outcome.

All of this is to say, sure, I’m in for a handful more episodes of Hostages. It’s a pretty great first hour and if they can keep up the suspense before changing direction, it might be a feat worth watching every week.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com