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Granted, that’s a recipe that many shows screw up, but what Human Target got right in its freshman season of 12 episodes was that it avoided too many cliches and, for the most part, understood precisely what it was — an action series with some intelligence, possibly some dark areas but never an urge to showcase those attributes at the expense of entertainment.
If you missed out on Target, the premise is relatively simple: It’s a show about a bodyguard named Chance (Mark Valley) who can do pretty much any dangerous job you need because he’s got no real fear of death (more on that later). He’s employed (in San Francisco, via exterior shots), by ex-cop Winston (Chi McBride), who’s now in the high-value target protection business. Against Winston’s better judgment, Chance sort of subcontracts out to a guy named Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley), who looks a little like a nerdy runt but is, in fact, crazy dangerous. Their modus operandi is to take the person who is in peril, put them in a public spot where they will draw out the assassins, and save the day (while killing everybody else, most likely).
You might say this is precisely the kind of series that also killed Rubicon, but there’s something to be said about turning your brain off for an hour and, not to rub things in, having stuff happen on screen.
But here’s where Human Target gets undersold a bit. It took a number of episodes last year, but we finally started to see why Chance is into helping people and, simultaneously, able to keep the fear of death at bay. See, he’s done some bad things in his past. He’s got some baggage — an existential crisis that, unlike Don Draper, doesn’t need to be dipped in mopey unhappiness and booze. Instead, Chance is funny. He’s charming. He surprises people with his ability to speak a lot of languages and make up credible lies on the fly. On the outside, he’s James Bond without the monkey suit. Inside, he knows he’s paying off debts from his former life of laying waste to things on assignment. He could probably use a few rounds of In Treatment.
Now, it’s this very subtle inner turmoil that made Target a notch more intriguing for those who wanted a deeper character. And Haley’s Guerrero was a superb X factor (that the show didn’t use nearly enough). It’s always good to have a guy who knows guys and will kill your mother without blinking — all in a frame that looks about 5 foot 6 inches and 120 pounds on a rainy San Francisco night. It’s different. It’s working.
This season, with Matt Miller (Chuck) taking on executive producer-writer-show runner duties, he’s promising to flesh things out a bit without changing much of the original allure, which is good news. Mostly, he’s brought in Indira Varma (Luther, Rome) as Ilsa Pucci, a widowed billionaire who takes a liking to the boys. And Janet Montgomery (Entourage) as a thief who also gets reluctantly entangled with the trio. So you can see the note Fox put on the show: Let’s leaven the testosterone a bit.
And yet, nothing’s really changed. The escapism is sky high. Valley remains as charismatic as ever, with McBride’s disdainful asides and Haley’s chilly creepiness intact. It would be unfortunate if Human Target somehow got soapy or dumber, because good popcorn is rare.
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