A show has to fly pretty damn low under the radar for me, a media blogger, to miss hearing about it completely for an entire year. Such is the case with Banshee, an original series on Cinemax, a channel which I had no idea even had original series.
The concept sells itself, and is why I started watching after hearing middling recommendations at best. A recently released con masquerades as a lawman to become the sheriff of small town called Banshee. He has to walk the line between actually attempting to enforce the law, and continuing on with his criminal ways, all the while running from his past mistakes. Past mistakes which are trying very hard to find and kill him.
Newcomer Anthony Starr is Lucas Hood, and I honestly don’t remember his character name before he adopted the moniker of the dead Sheriff. For all intents and purposes, he’s Sheriff Hood, and that’s what we know him as for the duration of the series. Starr is that “clone” sort of good looking grizzled brunette that stars in every shooter video game you’ve ever played, and leads action shows like Arrow and Spartacus. He starts off as relatively generic, but slowly becomes his own character as time goes on. By the end of season one, Starr has rounded out Hood quite nicely.
To me, Banshee is a prime example of television having a one-up on movies. If Banshee was simply a two hour flick, it would be immediately and utterly forgettable. But since it has 10 episodes to find its way, it manages to build its story and its characters into something entirely worthwhile. The show finds its footing about midway through, and by the end, manages to be one of the better new shows that aired in 2013.
Hood and over the top “man’s man” fighting every punk he sees and bedding impossibly gorgeous women by casting no more than a simple glance in their direction. The show goes obnoxiously out of its way to make Hood sleep with a parade of gorgeous women who realistically should want nothing to do with him. There’s the Amish-gone-wild girl hiding a supermodel body under her black wool robes. There’s the smoking hot wife of a local man Hood has killed, who wants to bed him all the same. It gets pretty ridiculous, and the women on the show seem to have no other purpose but to fall into bed with Hood at one point or another. Only one on the entire show so far has resisted, one of his deputies. But even she, speaking to Hood after he shows up at her door to protect her from a biker gang that wants her head, tells him, “when I do invite you over here, it won’t be to protect me.” This gets old fast, as does Lucas constantly swooping in and singlehandedly saving the day against all odds. Usually saving a woman in the process. Who then wants to bed him.
The show divides its time between two villains, one interesting, one not. There’s Rabbit, the crime boss that Hood and his ex-partner/lover Anna stole from which landed him in jail for 15 years, and forced her to start a new life with a new name in Banshee. And then there’s Kai Proctor, an Amish farmer turned local crime lord who is frustrated he can’t buy Hood’s devotion, even though the man clearly operates outside the law.
Rabbit isn’t that interesting, sending waves of Ukranian bad guys after Anna and Hood, speaking like a contemplative bond villain. Proctor is far more complex, as we see from his relationship with the family that shunned him, the town that fears him, his super hot niece (complete with creepy incest vibe) and of course, Hood himself. Though the two are positioned as enemies, they eventually become unlikely allies throughout the course of the season. That will likely not remain the case as the show progresses, but the relationship between Hood and Proctor is probably the best we find onscreen.
Banshee starts getting good when it realizes it’s an ensemble, and doesn’t necessarily have to be about Hood bedding girls and kicking ass all by himself. The finale, which I won’t spoil, is a complete reversal of everything that came before it, with Hood finding the friends he’s made as Sheriff valuable at a time when he’s truly powerless.
Banshee also has some of the best, most brutal brawls I’ve ever seen in a TV show. Though it’s tempting to compare Banshee to Starz’s Spartacus in many ways with its abundance of violence, sex and its lookalike heroes, the fights are far different here. There’s no slow motion or CGI blood. They’re brutal, realistic and so horrifying you actually feel the pain shown on screen sometimes, reminding me a lot of the ones you might find in A History of Violence, or similarly-themed movies. They stick in your head, whether it’s Hood teaching a rapist prizefighter a lesson in a street brawl, Hood asserting himself in prison, or Anna fighting off a hitman. There are three or four fights across the ten episodes that are all better than nearly anything else I’ve seen on TV.
The show has its share of issues. After the first few episodes, there’s really no mystery left to it, as you understand what Hood and Anna did, and what the relationships between all the characters are. The most interesting aspect of the show is the opening credits, which features photographs that change based on what has happened or will happen during the series or current episode. It’s a cool hook, but your opening credits probably shouldn’t be the most interesting mystery of your show.
Similarly, the show just sort of throws in random plotlines without giving them much thought. Inexplicably, Hood keeps trying to commit robberies that ultimately go nowhere. One episode opens with him stealing a painting from…somewhere, and getting locked down by security. The idea was never discussed before, never mentioned since, and made no sense with him trying to lay low in Banshee. Similarly, season one ends with Hood and his cronies scoping out an armored truck to rob, yet that plan never even comes close to being executed, and it would be weird if they were spacing it out over multiple season. Characters like the young mayor and hot grieving widow are forgotten about until they’re brought back nonsensically, and even Proctor himself isn’t much of a factor in the finale, and all his build up with Hood hasn’t led anywhere yet.
That said, there’s a solid base of a show here, and over the first season, it’s established some pretty great characters. It’s main three leads, Hood, Proctor and Anna are all great characters, and the supporting cast is largely likable as well. Combine that with some intense action and the only thing that’s really missing is a solid core plot to match its fundamentally great concept. There were pieces of a good story in the first season, but hopefully the second can improve on that.
I’d recommend it, and I’m curious as to your thoughts if you’ve seen it already.