The Player: The Big Blind – Was that Ginny? (Review)

The Player - Season 1

Last week in The Player, Alex started searching for Ginny in earnest and Mr. Johnson offered to help his player in the effort. This week in The Big Blind, the pit boss is more interested in the game than in helping Alex find his “dead” wife.  It also seems that Johnson does not want Cassandra to know about the assistance. Ms. King and the pit boss reveal a bit more about their “relationship” while she struggles to keeps things smooth with her boyfriend.

The Big Blind delivers in spades. This new series has definitely hit its stride and is moving swiftly into an addictive experience. With the underlying plot thread of Ginny’s “fake” death (The missing tattoo and  Cassandra’s connection with Alex’s wife , that she removed all evidence of,  show that something shady is going on here.) plaguing Kane’s thoughts as well as  the increased action and impressive stunts of the game, The Player as series has shifted easily into the top spot on the NBC lineup.

This week the show starts with Alex laying in the dirt, bloody and disoriented and a female shape, with a silhouette that looks an awful lot like Ginny’s (Daisy Betts), appears and  Alex says her name.  Later, we learn that Alex met Ginny, aka Virginia, this way; wounded, laying in the dirt and blood at the Sudan.  Like any good romance scenario, the soldier fell in love with his doctor.

Alex and Ginny are given just enough screen time together to cement their backstory. The two are decorating their first home, “for posterity” and we see a playful exchange of paint and a kiss. (This scene is, perhaps, the only annoyance out of the whole episode. The reason? For a “self-filmed” bit of action, the camera work was way too smooth. Apart from that little problem the scene does set up the relationship between the two brilliantly.)

The stakes in this episode were raised through the roof as Alex has to face a number of bounty hunters who appear to be after a client of his. Later he learns  that the men are attempting to collect on an anonymous contract placed on the target, Ray, by his wife Monica.  After the initial attempt on Ray’s life, the contract changes. The mob thug puts out another contract on his missus.

It is also revealed that things between Mr. Johnson and Ms. King are not entirely harmonious. There is some tension there, not entirely caused by Cassandra losing her day off.

The Player - Season 1

Ray is almost killed by a bomb and Cassandra tracks down the hitman, using Alex’s security cameras and Kane finds the killer dead with four fingernails pulled out.  At this point, the player learns, with Ms. King’s help, that a number of new “hitmen” have been drawn to the $250K bounty.

A total of five hunters are competing for the bounty and Alex must defeat them all to win.

The Big Blind had the right amount of action, stunts for the win and even contained a couple of “MacGyver” moments. One, used a  timed flash on a smart phone and another was a paint thinner, duct tape and a welding torch construct. Both equally impressive, violent and effective. The fights between Alex and the baddies in the deserted hotel were choreographed brilliantly. Kudos all around for the action scenes in this one.

Eric Roberts, in his  cameo as the mafia daddy of Monica who is in prison with a wheelchair and a nasty bit of emphysema gave his usual above par performance. Roberts played Pauly Agostino, a mob figure who has connections with Mr. Johnson and despite his ailments is still a very powerful man.

The plot of The Player, set around the failed assassination attempt on Ray, is really about spousal abuse. Monica, who was friends with Ray’s wife Ginny (yet another trail leading back to Kane’s “dead” wife) miscarried once before when her husband threw her down the stairs.  Monica is pregnant again and since Ray beats her on a regular basis, she puts the initial contract out on his life.

Along with the domestic violence storyline the episode is also about relationships. Most notably Cassandra and all her relationships/connections with the main characters, as well as her personal one with Nick, a partnership that looks to be dissolving.  Cassandra King is connected to Alex (work), Mr. Johnson (work) and Ginny (This last is a question mark, is Ms. King a friend, an old colleague or former coworker of Mrs. Kane?  We do not know…yet.)

Charity Wakefield as Cassandra continues to captivate and the writers of the show have the “Dealer” down pat. The scene in the kitchen, the morning after, is spot on. Nick asks for spices and King opens a cupboard door to take out the one item on the shelf; salt. She hands it to Nick and he jokingly tells Cassandra that she’ll make someone a good wife some day.

The scene between Philip Winchester and Daisy Betts shows the chemistry these two performers have.  We have  no doubt that these characters are/were very much in love. Wesley Snipes also shows another side to his Mr. Johnson; pit boss extraordinaire. When Cassandra tells Alex that she is seven moves ahead of him and to “catch up,” Johnson grins widely and chuckles, a little touch that makes Snipes’s character a bit more dimensional.

By the end of the episode, after Alex “sees” the silhouette of Ginny and he wins the game, we have to ask if that was Ginny. Kane’s flashback to meeting his wife and her treating his wounds before makes the sighting feel a bit ambiguous.  Still, it is pretty much a certainty that Ginny is still alive so it could well have been her.

The Player - Season 1

The Player airs Thursdays on NBC. Tune in and see what an action/thriller television series should look like. Show creators John Fox and John Rogers have hit their mark perfectly this week and this series is delivering on all cylinders. 

The Player: LA Takedown – The Mystery of Ginny Continues

The Player - Season 1

Last week saw Kane finding the SD card hidden in the picture a’la The Purloined LetterIn The Player this week, L.A. Breakdown, the mystery of Ginny deepens. While Alex goes after a No Country for Old Men type of hitman hired by a cartel to kill people from a five year-old theft of drug money, Mr. Johnson steps in and muddies the water in Kane’s search for his “dead” wife.

On top of the two plot threads of Ginny and the main one dealing with super sniper Suarez, Detective Brown (Damon Gupton) is approached by a new character, FBI agent  Rose Nolan who calls him into a search for the former Player (whose body we see Johnson standing over in the season pilot episode). 

As Kane enters the next bet (Can Alex Kane stop the sniper from killing his next victim [sic]) more backstories are revealed and characters, like  Donovan, who Kane asks to help him get all the data off the Ginny SD card. Johnson, who last week promised his player help in finding Ginny, intercepts Donovan and after combing through all he found on the card, takes a large amount of it.

After explaining the penalties of telling his friend about the intercepted data, Donovan then lies to Alex about what he found. Brown learns from Agent Nolan that his old friend Kane is another in along list of former special forces, NSA, FBI, et al men who were all acting strangely before falling off the grid.

Cassandra King (Charity Wakefield) has more of her character revealed, SAS, British Royal Marines and a crack shot herself with a sniper rifle.  Kane proves that he can think outside the box, in a stand off with Suarez he drops his weapon and says, “Take the shot.” A confused cartel sniper stands still while King places a shot in the killer’s back from an amazing distance. 

This episode allows Philip Winchester a chance to show off some pretty impressive chops. While Wakefield’s King  is still the stronger, and more interesting, character of the three main protagonists, Kane is approaching a cool second place. The tears of frustration and loss for Ginny adds a huge amount of depth to this reluctant player.

Snipes still comes across as cooler than cool although he is still bit too aloof.  His pit boss feels like Blade without the vampiric powers and Whistler.  It still remains to be seen whether this star’s presence will increase in the show or stay in the periphery as shadow. The fact that he personally intervenes twice, in two episodes,  seems to indicate that Johnson will move to the fore as he continues to orchestrate Kane’s personal life.

The interplay between Kane and Suarez lacked the panache of the Coen Brothers’ killer, although the cartel assassin did have a pretty impressive kill record.  Sadly, there is not enough Suarez to make this part of the plot too interesting.

It is Mr Johnson’s systematic tearing down of Donovan McDowell, Alex’s techno expert friend, that takes center stage in terms of character development. The pit boss’s calm demeanor while threatening all that Donovan holds near and dear speaks volumes about Snipes’ Johnson. This is stepping up out of the periphery and showing what this man is willing to do for the “game.”

There is a nicely paced running gunfight and car chase, although there are only two vehicles actually chasing Alex in his Jeep, an RPG is used repeatedly so kudos to making a tight budget work well.  Kane and King interact interestingly in this sequence with the Dealer proving that in terms of cold-blooded, she holds all the cards.

As the season progresses, The Player is starting to impress more and more. It is difficult to find fault with a series that includes references to Edgar Allen Poe and the Coen Brothers. Not to mention the “shooting the target” to save his life and the interaction afterward between Alex and “Baahb.”

The Player airs Thursdays on NBC. Tune in and see some high octane action against a thumping musical score with the blindingly beautiful Charity Wakefield making her co-stars disappear each time she is on screen.  Of course, Winchester is entertaining and Snipes is convincing as the chap who can make cartel’s “eat it.”

The Player: Ante Up – There May be Hope

The Player - Season 1

So episode two of The Player keeps the action and the Ginny conspiracy running while star Philip Winchester continues to spar with Wesley Snipes and intrigue Charity Wakefield.  Aussie actress Daisy Betts, whose character Ginny was “killed” in the show’s pilot, maintains a background presence via photographs and Alex’s remembrance that the body in the morgue was missing a vital bit of tattoo ink.

The series moves into the game proper this week and things have gotten deadlier. A team of bloodthirsty and coldblooded killers are robbing security vans and killing innocents on a wide scale.  Kane is pitted against the “Carnage Crew.”

While the whole Alex grousing about the game may be annoying, the show’s action sequences are impressive and the mix of Wakefield, Winchester and Snipes is a good one. Damon Gupton, the best friend and cop who seemed hell-bent on putting Alex in jail last week, has warmed up a bit. He still has that cold delivery however and this still irritates.

Ante Up proves that high octane is the theme for this action thriller.  After Mr. Johnson shows Kane that he will make things personal for The Player, Alex’s target is an old comrade from his Afghanistan days, surprisingly it appears that the pit boss is also ready to help his reluctant asset.

The show has Alex being tortured, participating in a gun fight at a casino storeroom, another firefight on a main street, and a pretty impressive bit of action on an airplane and then in the air. There cannot be many programs that can boast a bit of “mile high” arial altercation where a parachute is swapped, unwillingly, between the fighters.

Wakefield continues to be the more interesting of the trio but Winchester is starting to become more watchable. The dialogue still feels  a little forced,  but, it is getting tighter and that bit more clever. Snipes, as Johnson, has a brilliant chemistry with both Cassandra/April and with Alex.

The one person who really does not fit in this scenario very well is Detective Cal Brown (Gupton). This may not be the actor’s fault, as it seems the writers spent too much time  trying to make Snipes, Winchester and Wakefield more interesting and witty. This has left Damon a little underwritten and oddly disjointed.  Seemingly way too eager to arrest his best buddy in the pilot and too understanding in this episode.

In terms of villains, Joseph Sikora, as Dominic McCall,  was perhaps a bit of a “one-note” baddy but his criminality was done with a sort of twisted panache and not a little psychosis.  The “double-down” second bet orchestrated by a clever Cassandra was a nice shift and gives us the idea that boyfriend Nick may be on the way out.

The Player - Season 1

The underlying plot thread of Alex believing that Ginny is still alive, by submitting hair samples for a DNA match become more interesting after being show that the body on the table was, supposedly, her. However…Johnson showing up at the end of the episode stating support and agreeing the Ginny is still alive gives Alex the idea that there is some hope she is not dead.

Just as this second episode of The Player gives us some hope that this action thriller is going to keep entertaining with a heavy dose of adrenaline and a improving plot line. The series airs Thursdays on NBC, tune in and see if they can beat that mid-air fisticuff scene in this episode.

 

‘The Player’ NBC Vegas Gamble with Wesley Snipes Thriller

The Player - Season Pilot

There is an almost inexplicable allure to setting television shows in Las Vegas that apparently began with the Robert Ulrich 1978-1981 hit Vega$. The Player is the latest to be set in the Vegas desert capital of gambling. Wesley Snipes is the network’s hole card in this thriller that feels a little like a small screen variation of the 2009 film The Tournament

The last television show set in the mecca of gambling was the Dennis Quaid/Michael Chiklis vehicle Las Vegas. That series did not fare well, quite possibly because it was set in “the good old days” of the town.

Now we have The Player which pits actor Philip Winchester against the “crook of the week” in a game run by Wesley Snipes’ character and aided by gorgeous Brit actress Charity Wakefield.

In the pilot, Alex Kane (Winchester) works in Vegas as a security advisor. The former FBI agent and terrorist specialist is enjoying his life with “almost” ex-wife Ginny (Aussie actress Daisy Betts) when someone enters Kane’s apartment shoots at him and murder’s Ginny.

The Player - Pilot
Cassandra King aka Charity Wakefield

He is then propelled into a world of the ultra-rich who bet on the outcome of criminal activities. Snipes is Mr. Johnson the pitt boss, Wakefield is Cassandra the dealer and Kane is the Player. After his former cop friend Det. Cal Brown (played by Damon Gupton) arrests him for his ex-wife’s murder, Kane is recruited by Johnson and Cassandra to their game.

The premise of predicting crime and betting against the outcome is interesting and could work, whether this will do so on a weekly basis remains to be seen. In the pilot the first challenge presented to Alex is to save a mother from dying during a kidnapping that he must also stop. The rest of the episode moves between Kane’s interaction with Snipes and Wakefield and trying to save the girl who is kidnapped.

With internals filmed in Los Angeles and all the Vegas externals being second unit footage, there are, as pointed out by a local publication, inconsistencies with geography of the town. Because of this the new series feels like a bit of a cheat. At least with Vega$ and the short-lived Quaid/Chiklis double-act, most of the show was actually filmed on the strip.

Winchester, who is a more than capable actor, fills a role that seems it should have been filled by Sean Bean. The actor who plays Kane does indeed feel like a US version of Bean, who already plays a “kick-a**” agent of sorts in TNT’s Legends.

NBC have opted to have Wesley Snipes be the show’s main draw. Unfortunately there is not enough Snipes to make the ploy work too successfully. Still, with a minimal amount of effort the Blade star does well in his scenes but alas lacks the spark he normally exudes. The former star seems to be a bit diminished on the small screen. Perhaps this will change over time.

The Player - Season Pilot
Snipes aka The Pit Boss.

Damon Gupton is Detective Brown, Kane’s former friend. This one character does not fit well in this verse. This friend seems all to ready to turn on his pal and even after his “innocence” is proven remains hostile toward Kane. Gupton is a performer whose delivery always feels flat and seemingly forced. It is an annoyance in this show which boasts some impressive performances.

Interestingly, the performer who “owns” the pilot is Charity Wakefield. Her dialogue with Winchester, where she replays his career as a sort of “This is Your Life” monologue is sheer brilliance. The delivery of her line “Against direct orders from the United States government, you shot Ibrahim Chechik in the face” is just perfect and tells the viewer volumes about her character.

If this series survives, it will be less because of Snipes and more because of Wakefield. Her performance far exceeds anyone else in the pilot. Clearly a case of casting being almost sublimely perfect. Philip Winchester may be the “star” and Wesley Snipes the “name” but it is that English actress from Tunbridge Wells who will sell this series.

The Player airs Thursdays on NBC. Fans of Snipes will tune in to see what he will do, join them for a change of pace. Only time will tell whether this new series will work or not.

The Player - Season Pilot
Damon Gupton a little flat in this one.
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