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CBS’ new summer action-adventure Blood & Treasure is like a comedian putting together a celebrity impression reel in hopes of making it on Saturday Night Live. Yes, you probably do a good Donald Trump. Yes, I recognize that Al Pacino of yours. Yes, a Gilbert Gottfried take in 2019 is timely. But who do you have in your back pocket that we haven’t seen before? And how about an original character or two?
Over the two-hour Blood & Treasure premiere sent to critics, the show directly acknowledges Raiders of the Lost Ark, obliquely nods in the direction of The Da Vinci Code and seems generally aware of the existence of National Treasure. You never, for a single second, lose track of the influences inspiring creators Matthew Federman and Stephen Scaia or why CBS has been eyeing Blood & Treasure as fizzy summer programming since it was ordered in late 2017. What you never get here is a single character or idea that comes across as fresh or distinctive or takes the genre any place even vaguely new.
Air date: May 21, 2019
Come into Blood & Treasure hoping for The Librarians, only without the literary cleverness, or Whiskey Cavalier with less sizzle between its leads and less confidence in its international locations, and at least your expectations will align properly with the show.
Blood & Treasure begins in Egypt with the discovery of a sealed vault that may be the final resting place of Antony and Cleopatra — a tomb that may also be cursed. In short order, sexy silver fox terrorist Karim Farouk (Oded Fehr) has kidnapped sexy lead archeologist Dr. Anna Castillo (Alicia Coppola) and blown a pyramid to bits.
Dr. Castillo’s abduction attracts the attention of her protege Danny McNamara (Matt Barr), a sexy former FBI agent and current antiquities expert or something. Danny is recruited to find Castillo by a resourceful billionaire (John Larroquette) who is surprisingly helpful and yet immediately untrustworthy because he’s a resourceful billionaire played by John Larroquette. Danny, in turn, recruits sexy, swashbuckling and ethics-challenged Egyptian relic hunter Lexi Vaziri (Sofia Pernas), who has the black-market contacts he lacks. Danny and Lexi have a romantic past, conveyed in flashbacks. Danny may also have a past with Gwen Karlsson (Katia Winter), a sexy Interpol agent, though whether it was romantic or just professional isn’t all that interesting.
Despite the rampant sexiness from all and sundry, there’s very little sexiness to Blood & Treasure. Pernas, to her credit, brings a general fiery lustiness to every scene and develops chemistry with a lot of inanimate objects, including sarcophagi, framed paintings and a little magical technical flash-drive gizmo that does whatever the writers need to work themselves out of corners.
Unfortunately, there’s no chemistry between Pernas and Barr, nor between Barr and Winter, who may or may not have shared scenes back on Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, another show that represents better execution of a similar template. There’s no real wit or crackle to any of the flirting and banter here, and the balance of the story is thrown out of sync by how solid a character Lexi is — she’s the Indiana Jones — and how bland Danny is. The show can’t even get very basic flirty-trope things right, like when Lexi makes Danny break into her ex-boyfriend’s apartment so that he can wear a designer suit to a black-market auction and there’s no reveal of dapper Danny’s transformation because he already looked more like he was headed for a yacht than like a lawyer or Boy Scout bureaucrat or whatever he is.
Maybe it’s because Blood & Treasure can’t decide on Danny’s profession or area of expertise that nothing he does in the first two episodes is all that smart or reflects any real knowledge base. There’s no solving of puzzles or unwrapping of riddles as Danny and the pretty women in his life trot around a very small portion of the globe. I’m not even setting the bar wildly high. When Danny finds himself in the Vatican, he announces that there’s a secret door, and then pokes the wall until he finds it. How hard is it to build a mythology around said secret door and make Danny do something resourceful to find it? Too hard, apparently. That’s why the big-picture plot of the series — Farouk sells artifacts to fund terrorist activities — is so limited in scope and ambition.
Shooting overseas gives Blood & Treasure some production value, but in contrast to the now-deceased Whiskey Cavalier, the series spends too much time indoors on generic sets and, when it ventures outside, it relies on predictable postcard backdrops that could have been realized just as easily in front of a greenscreen. In the Roman scenes, for example, characters keep wandering by the Trevi Fountain with so little reason for being there and such unconvincing interaction with the locale that I truly don’t know if they were even shooting at the Italian landmark. I similarly couldn’t tell you if they actually shot in Egypt (I doubt it) or in a familiar overseas stand-in (Morocco maybe?) or just drove to the desert outskirts of Santa Clarita.
Set-piece-wise, the first two hours, directed by Michael Dinner (the opener) and Alrick Riley (part two), have one OK motorcycle chase that’s clearly CG-augmented and a confusing but entertaining shootout in the aforementioned badly imagined black-market auction. That’s about it, though I did dig the use of retro maps to indicate changes in venue, even if you probably ought to pay Steven Spielberg royalties for a lift that obvious. The score, meanwhile, lifts bombastically from both John Williams and Lalo Schifrin.
Beyond all the sexy leads, there are several secondary (not to say they’re not also sexy) characters/performances — Larroquette, plus Michael James Shaw and James Callis as shady figures with criminal ties — that offer some amusement. If nothing else, Blood & Treasure succeeds at not taking itself too seriously. CBS announced and ordered this show explicitly as “summer” programming, with all the beach-read, Clive Cussler/Dan Brown associations that brings. I just wish the show could derive that kind of pleasure without being this derivative.
Cast: Matt Barr, Sofia Pernas, Oded Fehr, Katia Winter, Michael James Shaw, James Callis, Alicia Coppola
Creators: Matt Federman and Stephen Scaia
Airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS; two-hour premiere on May 21
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