I Speak TV: Human Target

Posted: January 21, 2010 in Jeff Holland, reviews, Threat Quality
Tags: , , ,

Christopher Chance in the Human Target comics: a master of disguise, who immerses himself in the identity of the protectee whose place he’s taking. The downside: Because he’s so good at reflecting the psychology of the roles he takes on, he is in constant danger of losing his own personality in the process – effectively “going native” in someone else’s life.

Christopher Chance in the Human Target TV series: a bodyguard of limitless talents who takes on the role of a “nobody” in the background to give the impression his client is undetected, so he can flush out the threat, and then engage in an exciting if improbable action sequence.

So, being that Human Target, the series keeps the name “Christopher Chance,” and the bodyguard profession and discards everything else that would make the property notable…why call it Human Target at all?

Why not call it what it really is: Not Quite Burn Notice, But Look At This Budget!

Because that’s what it is –Burn Notice, stripped bare. If you remove the drolly-informative narration, Michael’s family drama, the distinctive locale, and the heaping helpings of Bruce Campbell, but make sure the fight choreography’s really top-notch.

It is also, because of the budget and confidence in the action sequences, far more ridiculous than Burn Notice could ever be. One of the benefits of Michael Weston’s instructional voiceovers is to explain why he’s taking the course of action he is – the logic is usually, “I’m doing this tedious, slightly risky but ultimately necessary work now so that I don’t have to take a bigger risk later.”

Meanwhile when Christopher Chance is given the option of burrowing into the belly of an airplane to extinguish an electrical fire, or flip the plane upside down so the belly is in colder atmosphere (science people shut up please, there’s time for this later) – actually, the “use a fire extinguisher” idea never even comes up. Flipping the plane is apparently the most obvious solution – and of course, the Most Awesomest.

(In other words, if Burn Notice is Les Stroud’s Survivorman, Human Target is Bear Grylls’ Man Vs. Wild. Stroud is ostensibly trying to teach some basic worst-case scenario techniques. Meanwhile, there’s no good reason for Bear Grylls to do ANYTHING he does but dammit it’s gonna HAPPEN.)

But the real problem with the show is a pretty obvious visual: Mark Valley Stands Out.

Here’s what Mark Valley looks like.

He’s over 6 feet tall, well-built, has very, very blue eyes. This is someone you notice. And so the central conceit of the show – that Christopher Chance is good at blending into the background – is nearly impossible to buy into.

What the show should have been – what it probably could have been if it wasn’t on Fox and Fox wasn’t actively seeking a big action-adventure show (the type Dollhouse failed to deliver) – is an espionage show, featuring a character actor who actually CAN blend in. The kind of actor you don’t even recognize from part to part. Someone like, say, Jackie Earle Haley.

This is Jackie Earle Haley – who plays supporting character Guerrero (the Fiona character, to continue the Burn Notice analogy).

This is someone who can blend in. He’s not a tall guy, so he can wear lifts as needed to appear taller. He’s balding, so isn’t afraid to go clean-scalp or wear a wig. Clearly can grow a decent beard. This is someone you could buy as a “master of disguise” – and you can even keep the identity themes of the Peter Milligan comics.

And given that you can’t reasonably build a show about a guy who can quite literally become the person they’re protecting (since that means handing over at least half of each episode to having a guest-star in the starring role – maybe somewhere, but not on Fox primetime), having a disguised Haley working in the background is a far more effective presentation of the show’s premise than having Captain America claiming to be an insurance salesman while asking suspicious questions.

In an alternate universe, there is a great, murky, philosophical spy adaptation of the Vertigo comic called Human Target starring Jackie Earle Haley. But we live in this world, where there’s just an okay, competently-shot action show with a passing resemblance to a comic, starring Mark Valley, called Human Target.

  1. K. Liebert says:

    I thought he flipped the plane because the air speed was greater “up there.” The extra tiny bit of airspeed on the “top” of the plane would put the fire out via suffocation. An equally preposterous proposition. Valley is over 6ft tall?! No way… he seems like he should be no more than 5’10” at most; he just seems short to me. This incarnation of Chase doesn’t seem to be “fade into the background” Chase, but more “I have a reasonably plausible reason for being here” Chase where he acts like a giant phosphorus flare to distract the killers.

    Very much agreed that it is “just an okay, competently-shot action show.”

  2. Jeff Holland says:

    The method Chance explains to whassername from Battlestar in the pilot is that he takes the role of someone who has a reasonable reason to be in proximity to the client but is otherwise unnoticeable, giving the impression the client is unprotected to draw the bad guy out.

    By “draw the bad guy out,” so far he seems to mean, “force the bad guy to pull out a gun and start firing.” How this is more useful than your standard-issue bodyguard, who stands close and wears protective clothing is not entirely clear to me.

    In any event, Burn Notice is also back this week, and so Human Target has one more week to convince me there’s something there worth tuning into.

  3. Jeff Holland says:

    I just noticed I wrote “reasonable reason.” I apologetically apologize for that.

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