The Player: Tell – Game, Set, Dangling Mystery (Review)

There must be a special hell for those TV shows cancelled before the dangling plot line is sorted. The Player is another victim of network stupidity.

The Player - Season 1

There must be a special hell for those TV shows cancelled before the dangling plot line is sorted. The Player is another victim of network stupidity. Tell, the last ever episode of the series leaves questions unanswered and the mystery of Ginny left unsolved, it is not game, set and match, but just game over, like a last generation video gamer who failed to stop the “big boss,” the player is dead.

The final episode of the series,  shed light on a number of  interwoven plot threads that proved just how much effort had gone into this Las Vegas based “crime/action/thriller.” Sadly, viewers and fans of the show will never learn of what the tangible connection is between Cassandra King (Charity Wakefield), apart from the fact that Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes) first came into contact with his “dealer” when he was “the player” and not yet pit boss.

Alex Kane (Philip Winchester) loses his “get out of jail free card” and best friend Cal Brown (Damon Gupton) and discovers that there are more layers yet to be discovered about his missing wife Ginny (Daisy Betts).  Even capturing the “villain of the week” Jeff Fahey (as a bent copper who “disappeared” Ginny at her request) answers little about her decision to drop out and fans will now never know who those men were who so terrified Ginny.

KaDee Strickland (as Agent Rose Nolan) proved to be every bit as evil, and dirty, as Brown suspects Johnson and his little crew are. Detective Brown, at the end of the show understands that he has danced with the devil and feels like a sad virgin who got involved with the wrong man.

The Player - Season 1
Charity Wakefield as Cassandra King, dangerous, deadly and sexy as hell…

Wakefield, as Cassandra King, continues to shine as the most interesting of the two members of the “game.”  The dealer proves to be more than equal to Nolan’s bullying, and illegal, questioning and leaves unbroken, unbowed and with more information  than Nolan realizes.

Winchester’s “player” continues to prove that if anyone were ever born to play this type of role, it the the Montana born actor who earned his action man spurs on shows like Strike Back and Camelot.

The Player had the deck stacked against it from the very beginning, put in a bad time slot on a night where its targeted audience was tuning into live sports offered on other channels.  Apart from scheduling stupidity, the show also seems to have suffered from the “Las Vegas Curse.”

Wesley Snipes and co are not the first to be stricken by the Vegas blight that has affected many other shows set in the city of sin and glitter. Apart from Vega$ (starring Robert Ulrich and Phyllis Davis, along with Hollywood icon Tony Curtis as a recurring character) a 1978 series that lasted three seasons, and the  2003 James Caan  vehicle that lasted five whole seasons, (Las Vegas) all that followed after have died quick messy network deaths. 

Even the SyFy channel’s Dominion (filmed in South Africa but set in a post apocalyptic Vegas) died after three seasons.  It seems that while many yearn to visit the oasis in the Nevada desert, no one really wants to watch a television series set there.  Somewhat akin to the unwritten rule that films and TV shows about actors never do well, shows set in Vegas are not overly popular.

The Player - Season 1
Snipes as Pit Boss…

It could even boil down to a reluctance of viewers to appreciate a small-screen Wesley Snipes. Apart from a 1990s TV series (H.E.L.P.) where Snipes was a “regular,” the film actor’s forays into the smaller world of television have been few.  Unfortunately, the star will not have a chance to grow into his role of pit boss and shady character since NBC have killed the series off after nine episodes.

By the time end credits rolled on the last  episode of The Player, it was apparent that this series should have been allowed to finish its first season properly and then been optioned for another, second season.  NBC seem to specialize in green lighting properties that they have no real faith in and no loyalty to.

RIP The Player and condolences to Damon Gupton, Charity Wakefield, Philip Winchester and Wesley Snipes in the cast and  to the show’s creators, the two “Johns,” Fox and Rogers.  Kudos to Gupton who actually moved this viewer for the first time in the season.  So long guys and dolls you did well and do not deserve this too early death from a nebbish network.

 

The Player: Downtown Odds – Penultimate Episode Thug’s Life Yo (Review)

The Player - Season 1

Christopher Heyerdahl may be better known as The Swede from AMCs Hell on Wheels, but in this penultimate episode of The Player; Downtown Odds. With a Romeo & Juliette riff on a thug’s life, Yo, the segment felt like a slow methodic waltz with the dancers moving toward an almost preordained ending.  Although unlike the bard’s unlucky lovers, both do not wind up dead.

There is also a “Man with No Name” twist with Heyerdahl’s character “Ivan” playing both sides against the middle. His plan, one that has worked before, is to have both gangs kill each other off and allows him to stroll in and take over their turf.  Winchester, who plays Alex Kane, manages to evoke an image of fearless avenger, as well as the man who believes that the young “thugs” have earned the right to leave the “life.”

Cassandra King (Charity Wakefield)  is shown to be a damned character behind all that sophisticated cool sexiness.  King, like Philip, Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes) and even, apparently, Ginny (Daisy Betts) are all sinners caught up in web of redemption, punishment and, possibly, restitution. And like all truly damned people she  further “sells” herself out to Johnson in order to save Nick.

The Player - Season 1
Cassandra choses the Game over Nick…

KaDee Strickland as Agent Rose Nolan oozes that smoldering amount of control that allows her to play give and take with Johnson in a slow sexy dance where she promises to punish this bad man when, and not if, she wins. Nolan is real danger, something that may look like it is outside the game but could well be from within.  Rose knows a lot about the Pit Boss; too much to have picked it all up from beyond the game itself.

This week’s episode does feel little “West Side Story” meets the “Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s.”  Two young people, from different gangs, or clans, meet outside the battle zone and fall in love.  It is this portion of the bet that pushes Philip to take on the game  aggressively.  It does not end well at all. However, the entire storyline moves Cassandra and Philip that little bit closer to an allegiance and drives another wedge between Winchester and his friend Detective Brown (Damon Gupton).

Perhaps it the impending too early finish of The Player, but this story felt downbeat and overly sad.  Although the entire thing was saved from morbidity by guest star Heyerdahl’s splendid underplaying of the boogeyman pulling the strings of the opposing factions.  The actor leaves the “crazy” back at Hell on Wheels and instead focuses on controlled chaos creation.  In essence, his Ivan is kicking the hornets nest in slow motion and enjoying the collapse of an uneasy truce between two “fams.”

The Player - Season 1
Slow “savage” seduction?

Watching Strickland’s FBI super agent take on Snipes’ uber cool pit boss was entertaining and leaves one feeling that despite being on two different sides, the two could be a item of the hottest tension imaginable.  This is coitus interruptus taking place before either party even thinks of “getting it on” and the chemistry between these two is so palpable it seeps heavily from the screen.

Watching Downtown Odds leaves one feeling down thinking of what could have been with this NBC castoff. The Player has a cast of superb performers who make the most of their roles and has some damned impressive guest stars. Granted, some, like Richard Roundtree, are given short shrift but this could have been show to be proud of.

All the players even Damon Gupton, who took some time to warm up for this viewer, has hit his stride and this could have been a major, for lack of a better phrase player for the network. Action, stunts, well choreographed fight scenes, intricate plots and chemistry that threatens to simmer off the small screen and into the living rooms of Mr and Mrs America.

Shame on you NBC, for turning your back on The Player and all who sail her. Treating Snipes, Winchester, Wakefield and Gupton like a “red headed step child,” is not big and it is not clever. May television karma bite your big unprotected network butt.

 

 

The Player: A House Is Not a Home – Where Is Ginny Now? (Review)

The Player - Season 1

As The Player heads to its abrupt season finale, episode 9 for those able to count, A House Is Not a Home, continues the tale of Ginny and where she might be now.  It has to be said that the sudden drop of the series by NBC adds an element of  frustration while watching the show play out its shortened hand.  The creator’s (John Fox and John Rogers) have mixed in some interesting clues as to just how powerful the organization is that Johnson works for.

A bit more  tantalizing information about Cassandra King (Charity Wakefield) and her mysterious past is eked out and the death of Samuel Letts (Richard Roundtree) rattles Johnson (Wesley Snipes) and we are left with the question of who or what is the council?

More  importantly, why does Ginny’s mother Barbara Lee (Catherine Dent) insist that Alex’s missing wife and her daughter is a liar?  Added to this odd bit of information is another question; why does Lee have a key (that looks like a vending machine key) with Ginny’s name stuck to it?

Alex Kane (Philip Winchester) has to catch a lone bomber before the authorities nab the man. There is a side bet on how many people Kane can save from further explosions. Along the way, Alex learns that the bomber Javier Cruz  (Michael Irby) was cheated by a bank and, feeling he has lost everything, the man is out to punish those responsible. 

The Player - Season 1
Mommy Dearest? Barbara Lee (Catherine Dent)

This episode reveals that Alex Kane is a “White Knight,” in slightly damaged armor, or as  Johnson puts it, a man with a savior complex.  This Player will always try to go for the save, and he punishes the guilty.  This trait appears to be shared by his enigmatic Pit Boss, who detonates the bomb left by Kane and Cruz in the crooked bank manager’s house.

Layers in this series are being steadily peeled back and all the “players” in The Player are being exposed. King’s dichotomous relationship with Johnson for instance.  Lett’s (Roundtree) asks Johnson about Cassandra and her loyalty. He also inquires about whether the Dealer knows the “truth” about her family. The implication is that the Council, or Johnson may not be able to trust King if she found out.

Clearly King does not trust Johnson, but like the Pit Boss himself, she is obligated to play the “game.” There is a clear “paying the piper” theme to this show that will now never be revealed or explored further.  Allegories of sinners being “punished’ or at least paying their dues with the Pit Boss as Satan, or his right hand man, and King as subservient…What? Demon?

If Cassandra is a demon it is an unenthusiastic one. She has that mysterious connection with Ginny (Daisy Betts), whom she is trying to save from Johnson, and she also has a special sort of chemistry with Kane.  At the end of the episode, she ends up reassuring Johnson that she has his back, even though Cassandra, moments before, was warning a missing Ginny not to trust the man.

So many layers and levels of mystery and subterfuge with everyone, bar Alex, lying to one another and playing some hidden end game.  Kane feels a little like a “Travis McGee” type hero although he has a job,  since he roots for the underdog like John D. MacDonald’s flawed “beach-bum” hero. Alex does have a savior complex and it is this that makes his character so compelling.

The Player - Season 1
Alex Kane a knight in damaged armor…

He cares.

Herein lies the underlying theme that plays throughout the action packed sequences and the plot twists and excellent fight scenes, this  trio of protagonists all care.  Johnson, for all his calm and unaffected behavior and Cassandra, with her glib, attractive and, let us call a spade a spade here, cool sophisticated sexiness, also cares.

Be not deceived, however, these players are not  three “Care Bears” running a charity, but a trio of shady individuals who are playing the game for their own personal reasons. Sadly, now that NBC have axed the show, we will never find out what these are.

Kane’s reason is obvious, he plays to find Ginny and while Johnson is giving signs to his Player that he is helping Alex in his search, there is a lot more going on here.  Glimpses of a past, that Johnson is reminded to not forget, and now a view of Ginny never before seen, courtesy of her drunken mother, have been uncovered only to be lost.

Inexplicably, The Player‘s viewing numbers continue to decline, although this may be a case of self-fulfilling prophesy. After all, why watch a show that its network has doomed to fail, relegated to the tip before the first season ends. So it could well be that the falling numbers are very explainable.

The Player airs Thursdays on NBC, for at least two more  episodes.  It should be pointed out that in terms of viewers, both The Player and Heroes Reborn on NBC are “underperforming” both airing on Thursday.  In the old days, if a network had any faith in a series, they would shuffle it to find a suitable slot.

Not any more, apparently. So tune in while you can.

The Player: The Norseman – OMG TV (Review)

The Player - Season 1

 

Episode 106 of The Player; The Norseman offers up some real “OMG” TV.  Not only is this the second time that star Wesley Snipes gets to kick major bad guy butt in the (soon to be) short-lived series, but the penny finally dropped as to just who is playing Agent Rose Nolan. KaDee Strickland (who has come along way from her killer role in the US remake of The Grudge and other roles in horror “followups” like Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid) is the too interested FBI agent who is protected enough that Mr. Johnson takes time to threaten her personally.

Nolan has touched base with Cal Brown (Damon Gupton), Alex Kane’s best buddy who is also a detective on the  LVPD, a number of times and Johnson is worried enough about the snoopy agent that he calls his contact in the bureau  (Richard Roundtree). At first the contact tells Mr. Johnson that he will have the annoyance removed from Vegas. Later he reveals the the woman is protected and that he cannot touch her.

Casting revelations aside, the plot of this episode could be seen as their “Halloween” special with a Norse-God worshipping serial killer who strikes roughly every 10 years in Las Vegas. The murderer kills two victims each time he strikes. The dead are decapitated and have their hands chopped off as well.

Brown came close to catching the killer in 2005 and he, along with Alex, believe that Bron Thornvald has returned. Alex’s niece Dani (Courtney Grosbeak) shows up after having a blowout with her mother, who lives in Phoenix, when mom learns of her hummingbird tattoo.  Her appearance enables the girl to become endangered by the real “Norseman” (played by Patrick Brennan who was an Irish cult leader on TNT’s The Last Shipwho her uncle catches before he can complete his last sacrifice.

This episode allowed Snipes to once again show off his considerable martial arts skills by letting his character intervene after Alex saves Dani from being killed by the Norseman. Johnson (Snipes) shows up and explains to the serial killer that he cleans up. Cue some intense, and very impressive looking, choreographed fighting with Snipes welding a bow (staff) against a massive axe.

It is a shame that NBC have decided, apparently, to cancel this action heavy series. Arguably the show took some time to become fully cohesive and it did face heavy opposition from “live” sports programs in the same slot (something that NBC decided, in its infinite wisdom to ignore when scheduling the new show) but before the series could find its feet, the network shot down the last four episodes in the first (Only?) season.

This total lack of faith in what should be a definite crowd pleasing show is puzzling and not a little frustrating. The Player has a splendidly impressive cast. Charity Wakefield as Ms. King aka The Dealer, Philip Winchester as “The Player” and Wesley Snipes as the Pit Boss. Damon Gupton as the “best friend cop” (who is starting to fit right in after a cold start) and guest stars/regulars like KaDee Strickland and Richard Roundtree.

In this episode alone, the writers came up with a clever storyline that paid attention to the time of year (Halloween) and gave the audience a show with nuances, or at least a backdrop, of the holiday. Of course the killer strikes on trick or treat day as well.  Granted it was a bit too fortuitous that Dani showed up just in time to be threatened because obviously it is more intense if Alex Kane has to protect someone he really cares about…

The Player - Season 1
Dani and Alex after the threat.

That little bit of contrivance aside, the episode showed just what the series is capable of. Letting Wesley Snipes roll his shirt sleeves up and show off his fighting prowess, letting Philip Winchester continue to prove that he is the best action star/actor on the small screen this year and allowing Charity Wakefield to do what she does best, captivate the scene whenever she appears.

Perhaps NBC is suffering from Longmire’s syndrome. While the two series’ are not similar in terms of views and popularity, the target audience for both shows cannot be too different. A&E cancelled the most popular scripted show that they aired because of demographics. The fans of the Wyoming cowboy cop who tuned in each week or recorded episodes via the DVR were deemed too old. The Player may also be in the same boat.

NBC stupidly placed The Player against live sports, a kiss of death move that means that they either did not understand the real demographic for the new series or that they misunderstood the show entirely. Either way it does not look too promising for other show’s that fall outside the targeted 19 – 45 age group that networks prefer.

This is great television. Shootouts, well choreographed fights, solid performances by the cast and storylines, with a plot device that could run for a plethora of seasons, that are not too out of this world so that they beggar belief should have been a no-brainer.  Plus there is the whole “Where’s Ginny” thing still going on, with more clues for Alex to worry like a bone. Great stuff indeed but doomed because someone in the network “does not get it.”

The Norseman  episode even featured what looks to be a homage to  The Terminator police scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator overpowers an entire precinct just like the serial killer rampages through the Vegas PD to escape.  Not to mention that the villain bears more than a passing resemblance to Clancy Brown’s character (The Kurgan) in Highlander.

Patrick Brennan kicking it as the Norseman.
Patrick Brennan kicking it as the Norseman.

The Player airs Thursdays on NBC. Tune in, while the show runs out its first season and see action television of the highest calibre and enjoy the performances and some damned clever writing. This series has a lot of OMG TV moments, enjoy them while you can.

The Player Gets “Constantine-d” by NBC – WTF?

The Player - Season 1

NBC strikes again. Once more the network has killed a show before it really got started and just as the pace and interest level seemed to be increasing exponentially. The Player has been “Constantine-d” and shut down at nine episodes. Although Constantine was allowed to finish up 13 episodes instead of being halted mid-run. (It could be said that The Player has met the same fate as Joss Whedon’s Firefly which was also abruptly stopped mid-season).

Rather interestingly, the NBC series was on the up. Figures showed that, presumably due to what the series faced in terms of competition, DVR viewing was rising. Considering that the show was up against sports and is a “male” oriented series, this should have been seen as a positive sign.  It seems that those in charge of programming do not realize that Wesley Snipes, Philip Winchester or the gorgeous and talented Charity Wakefield were never going to pull viewers from a live sports event.

While the first episode was a little lackluster (mainly because of a lack of Snipes, whom the show’s producers seemed reluctant to allow too much screen time) the merits of Wakefield, who was by far the most interesting character, were obvious.

By the second episode, it was apparent that Damon Gupton’s character had been poorly written, making his “best friend” role to Philip Winchester’s Alex Kane (the Player) an odd fit. Snipes had more of a presence and Wakefield ruled the episode (as indeed she has pretty much ruled them all).

The third episode increased the action and the inter-action. The show was hitting its stride as the actors found their roles more comfortable and in turn made their characters feel more realistic. The mystery of Ginny became a constant and increasingly highlighted thread that allowed the delightful Daisy Betts to maintain a presence.

The Player  has a male lead, Winchester, who learned how to do action scenes convincingly on the UK series Strike Back,  and  is  a good “all rounder” who could produce tears and sport some very powerful acting chops. Philip is more than an athletic actor, he is an actor full stop.

As is Snipes. While the star has major martial arts skills, he also has more than his share of thespian talent. Wakefield has the ability to captivate the screen whenever she is in front of the camera and easily became the focus of attention.

So what went wrong?

It could be a number of things. The location for instance. With a  setting of Las Vegas, where a number of second unit shoots are used for each episode to continue the illusion that the show is not really shot in LA,  with exteriors done sans actors (mostly) on an ad hoc basis, may be expensive to maintain.

Or…

The stunts, which for the small screen are very impressive, may also be a bit costly to continue. After all, once a standard has been set, the show’s producers cannot cut back. Especially on a show with “limited” viewers already.

Or…

Snipes may want more freedom. The star is a film actor and not accustomed to the rigors of television work.  Hence his “limited” presence on the show initially. It could even come down to price tag. How much does it cost to put Snipes through his paces on a weekly basis?

Too much?

Constantine logo

In all likelihood, this appears to be a case of impatience on the part of NBC. Just as it was with Constantineand, ultimately, with Hannibal cancelled after three seasons because viewing figures were not what the network wanted.  The thing these two other show’s had in common was an “outside the box” mentality of the producers.

The Player was likened to Person of Interest (CBS) and while the latter series is still going strong, although it is rumored this last season is the last, the show’s may be the same “at the core” but the delivery is different.  Sadly, this will not matter to those in the NBC version.

It really does feel like NBC should stand for “No Bloody Clue” (pardon the language) when it comes to letting a new series hit its stride. The Player was hitting all the marks and even Damon Gupton was starting to feel like a good fit.  Despite a cast that were becoming an enjoyable team and episodes that were becoming addictive NBC have killed the show by cutting it off at nine episodes.

Unlike Constantine‘s Matt Ryan (as the main protagonist) who will at least have a small resurgence in CW’s The Arrow, The Player will have no such “second chance.” There has been no news of the show being taken up by Netflix or Hulu, or even another network, so the show is just as dead as the series’ player before Alex Kane.

The Player airs Thursdays on NBC for at least another four episodes. After which it will either fade into obscurity or get picked up by another network. Tune in to see what NBC has thrown away.