Okay, I admit, I’m a sucker for the “one man against the world” storylines. Bourne. Bond. All the action hero movies ever made. The new show, The Player, is right up my alley. Let’s get to the elaborate premise.
Meet Alex Kane, ex-special ops soldier who was good at hunting terrorists and then killing them. He liked it too much and he was good at it. Until along came a pretty doctor lady who taught him to “do good” and thus he would “be good”. Fast forward a few years, him and the doctor lady are separated, but fraternizing with the enemy regularly and still in love. Alex is working as a high-priced security consultant, she’s a doctor in a local hospital again, all is sunny and warm.
Until a hitman tries to kill Alex and gets Jennie instead. Then things get weird. Remember in the Matrix when Neo meets Morpheus? Well, Alex gets to meet Mr. Johnson aka The Pit Boss. He runs “the game” where wealthy clients bet on crime outcomes, with heavy stakes. Minimum bid $1.5 million; maximum bid $100 million. He is aided by Cassandra, the Dealer, who handles data analysis. Think like Person of Interest, except the machine is controlled by the House. And they want Alex to be their new player. A single man, working alone and anonymously, to combat the forces of evil, or at least, the bad guy of the week. As an added bonus, he gets to target the man who killed Alex’ wife.
Alex eventually agrees, but only to avenge his wife and save a kidnapped girl. And that is the first episode. Alex Kane in Die Hard in Vegas. And (SPOILER ALERT), he does save the girl. Then gets sprung from police holding (a funny story actually, they think he murdered his wife), and the House offers Alex a full time gig. He says no. Then he discovers the body of his wife is not actually his wife (missing a secret tattoo). So he accepts the job, planning to bring down whoever “took” his wife, assuming she’s still alive.
Is the show fantastic? No, it’s not, and that’s the problem. Lots of other shows have tried to go down this road. Intelligence two years ago, the guy with a computer chip in his brain making him a super investigator/soldier working for Cyber Command. A few years ago, they tried it with Nathan Filion — it was called Drive. The premise was ex-wheelman comes home to find wife or daughter or some loved one kidnapped, and if he wants to see her alive, he has to play “the Game” err, no, that’s not right, he has to “win the race” where people bet on who will win Cannonball Run except the stakes are life or death. Intelligence ran the whole season, Drive only lasted an episode or two. A few years ago too, there was a Taye Diggs one where he kept having to relive the same day over and over again, one man against the odds, trying to save his wife.
It’s a good theory that the stakes will be compelling for viewers, but few have ever got the mix right. I like the show, but I’m not convinced this one has it right either. Maybe if they gave him super powers…that’s pretty hot right now.
There are three things going for it though. Alex Kane is played by Philip Winchester, and he has definite action hero presence without being giant ego man. Wesley Snipes is pretty good as the pit boss, although I’d be curious to see if all of his pay cheque goes to the IRS. But the real star of Episode One was Charity Wakefield as Cassandra aka The Dealer. She is in charge of data analysis, and is Alex’ one and only resource. She’s also likely the one who did something with Kane’s wife, since back in the day, they were friends at some point.
I’ll watch, but I suspect it will be cancelled before mid-season since it will be difficult to keep high enough viewership to justify the production costs.