'The Player': TV Review

A nonsensical drama.

NBC's latest action drama stars Wesley Snipes in a story about billionaires who have created a machine that predicts crime.

Despite what you may have heard, NBC is not stupid.

Ill-advised and blind sometimes, sure, but it knew all too well that The Blacklist was working and needed companion shows of a similar ilk. So we got Blindspot — and that looks to have paid off ratingswise, at least for the first episode. And now we get The Player, which is, well, too much of a bad idea that was similar to another idea that wasn’t really a good idea.

In short, NBC dealt one too many cards from the deck because The Player is basically absurd with a dollop of stupid on top and a whole bunch of empty tossed in for filler. Yes, empty can be filler.

Read more 'The Player' Creator Teases "Batshit Crazy" Twists for Wesley Snipes Series

Anyway, the story is best told to you with this caveat: In no part of the next sentences am I making anything up to be a smartass.

OK, here goes: So a bunch of billionaires have created a machine that can predict crime, and now they are bored and want to bet on it. You know, like betting a kidnap victim will be saved or selling low on an assassination attempt.

They bet in Vegas, via a hologram that kind of looks like the Colosseum. (Just FYI, I’m still being absolutely serious here, not trying to be funny).

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Maybe the hologram will look better when you see it than it did in the pilot I saw. It looked hokey, but no hokier than the idea of countless billionaires developing a machine that predicts crime and then, instead of basically stopping it, betting on it, instead. Well, wait. In some way they are kinda-sorta stopping it because they have recruited someone who will be known as The Player (Philip Winchester), who is given whatever tools he needs, provided they are fast and powerful tools, to help “prevent” whatever crime is about to happen. Just because some of those billionaires are betting against him doesn’t make it creepy or hokey at all. I’m assuming the bragging rights are something akin to, “I totally knew those women would be raped and everybody shot dead! Pay up, bitches!”

Kind of like DraftKings for the really rich and the really amoral.

Of course, the pilot doesn’t go that dark. Maybe the series will never go that dark, unless it needs a goosing in the ratings. But if you’re going to predict and bet on crime, you can’t just make it cool and action-oriented without addressing the awful, soulless center of it all. Maybe that will come in the finale?

Created by John Rogers (Leverage, Transformers) and John Fox (The Blacklist) and written by Rogers, The Player stars Winchester as Alex Kane, a black-ops-type security expert who can keep the world (or dictators and dicks within it) safe — for the right price. He’s the ultimate safety feature.

But when something happens to his ex-wife, with whom he is maybe thinking about rebuilding a relationship, he’s hell-bent on finding out who did it. The shadowy betting group at the center of the show can help him, provided — wait for it — he become The Player and solve countless other things beforehand while billionaires bet on his chances.

Yeah, dumb. Overly complicated and yet dumb.

He gets into the employ as Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes), aka The Pit Boss, and Cassandra King (Charity Wakefield), aka The Dealer, go a really long way to make sure he says yes to being The Player. Alex has a detective friend named Cal (Damon Gupton), whose job seems to be saying, “What you’re doing is crazy and makes no sense and is super illegal. OK, let me help you just this once and maybe some other times if you’re nice — gah, I did it again.”

None of this is nearly as good or as much mindless fun as Strike Back, the Cinemax series in which Winchester previously starred (not so surprisingly, with Blindspot star Sullivan Stapleton; it’s as if NBC saw the show and said, “Let’s get those guys and put them in separate, not nearly as good shows”).

Snipes' role seems to be the really cool cat in the awesome suit who tells The Player how hard it’s going to be and good luck (no sinister laughing in the pilot). To his credit, the actor seems to have negotiated into his contract that it be clear his Mr. Johnson can kick The Player’s ass if need be. It’s a badass world, bro, and having the most testosterone is essential.

I don’t know. Maybe I was just dreaming that part up. Maybe having the most testosterone doesn’t make you a winner. Maybe it makes you a pawn. I was trying to attach more meaning to a show that seems to have none in an effort to make it through the hour, which felt like two.

The Player seems like a very bad action-movie-dream set in Vegas where shooting stuff, blowing stuff up, driving cars fast and also fighting very well is more important than plot or believability. If that’s your kind of show, then by all means, fire up the hologram and let the betting begin on whether this show will ever make it a full season. I’m going to take the under.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine