'Legends': TV Review
New TNT drama currently lacks the heft to be truly riveting. But maybe in the world of complicated fare, a little easy escapism isn't such a bad thing
Television needs its comfort food even more so now that so many complex and difficult dramas are available. Sometimes you just need a show that feels familiar, keeps you entertained and ends without, say, someone being stoned to death or some sort of mysterious, ominous clue.
That's where TNT's Legends comes in. It stars Sean Bean — who, unlike in so many of his past roles, will not be killed off — as undercover FBI agent Martin Odum. What Legends is eager to tell viewers is that in the undercover world, "legend" means a "fabricated identity." The twist to the show is whether Odum is really who he thinks he is. Sure, he gets to be lots of interesting "legends" — a stuttering construction worker willing to commit an act of terror against his own country, a suave international arms dealer, a cowboy — all fake identities. But is "Martin Odum" real? And if he's not, does he understand that he's not who he thinks he is?
See, that's a show I'd watch. It's not overly complicated, but it has meat. And an actor like Bean, who has done excellent work in Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings, has the gravitas to pull off all kinds of roles. Plus, he looks like he's having fun doing it — probably because he's been assured that he won't be killed off.
And yet, after watching the first two episodes, it's a shame that Legends isn't a bit more ambitious. The pilot is splashy and action-packed, but overall the lack of complexity — and yes, I know I cited that as a plus earlier — makes it less satisfying.
Maybe that's the real issue with middling fare these days. There's a lot of it out there. And a lot of it's absorbing — like Strike Back and Banshee on Cinemax, The Blacklist on NBC, or Elementary and Person of Interest on CBS. We're beyond the Law & Order standard of hour-burning here, people. The average TV comfort food is now almost too good; you have to pay attention while watching, which almost defeats the purpose.
That makes it hard for a show like Legends. It's either the perfect series for walking around your house while it's on — as you make dinner, fold laundry or look for your car keys — or it's not good enough to be afforded one of your precious hours. Even one of those hours you've allotted away from The Leftovers and The Knick. Because those hours have gone to Banshee and The Blacklist.
See how hard it is to make — and watch — television these days?
Beyond the fine efforts of Bean, Legends, which is based on the novel by Robert Littell, also features Steve Harris as his boss; Morris Chestnut as an FBI agent whose savvy gets him on to the deep-cover team eventually; Tina Majorino as the tech-ops person who never fails; Amber Valletta as Odum's ex-wife (they have a loving son, who misses his dad when he's off undercover); and, perhaps less believably, Ali Larter as a fellow deep-cover operative. Maybe it's the curse of model looks, but it's hard to accept Larter as a badass agent (Legends does her no favors by making her pretend to be a stripper for her first undercover assignment).
It's an easy-on-the-eyes cast, and no doubt they'll all get into some Alias-like troubles going forward. But it would be nice if Legends acquired a little more heft. The deeper mystery of Odum's identity might be the fix for that, if the storyline unfolds with more speed.
We don't want the show getting too substantial, though. If it does, it'll move from entertaining to engrossing, and that's another level of commitment altogether.