The marketing material for Hostages touts it as the next great thriller on TV. It’s going to be TENSION and GRIPPING and other adjectives that you would find next to thriller in a thesaurus. The actual pilot for Hostages however is all but those words described.
The dissemination of information to the audience is a key factor in building tension. Either the work gives us what we need or it holds back and we are forced to reduce these mysterious characters, both good and bad, down to baser status and go from there. Characters serve more function than have form and in some cases that’s a good thing. The first half of the pilot gives us far too much information about Sanders family and their typical upper middle class problem.
They aren’t the perfect family. Husband Brian (Tate Donovan) isn’t the the successful businessman he pretends to be and isn’t faithful to his wife. Daughter Morgan is with an older man and is possibly pregnant. While son Jake is dealing (well it looks more like he’s a mule) weed. The first half of the pilot goes to great lengths to show us their problems, that no one but the hostage takers seem to know about, and develop some sort of connection to them. Even though these are the most rote and typical white people problems one would imagine seeing on TV. When the knowledge that Duncan Carlisle(Dylan McDermott) and his crew know these things about them it’s effective. If we were discovering theses things with the Sanders family it would’ve been far more interesting.
The pilot even goes a long way in making Duncan Carlisle somewhat sympathetic. He has a comatose wife with cancer and a daughter named Sawyer whom he calls “Soy-Soy”. Introducing him as a kind of badass FBI agent who follows his gut and shoots a would be bank robber who switched place. This is all information that is kind of interesting and maybe even a little necessary for the overall plot of the show. The way in which it and the Sanders is presented, in media res before jumping back in time, is linear and boring. Why not show the flashbacks during the hostage situation, then again that means hoping the audience pays attention.
For their part the cast is able bodied enough. Toni Collette was serviceable in the pilot. There’s a certain amount of fake cheerfulness from her but she’s OK and not this shows problem. Same goes for Dylan McDermott who thankfully doesn't crysterbate. McDermott can look like a smarmy ass in his sleep and manages to give Duncan an almost zen like appreciation to everything.
Hostages is one of several “limited series” that will be popping up this fall and year. No it isn’t a miniseries since that assumes it will end. Like Under the Dome CBS is chomping at the bit to bring this 15 episode series back. I don’t know how you do a second season fo this show. Heck I don’t know how they manage 15 episodes out of this even with the compressed time scale of about 2 weeks. That’s kind of a problem, since the pilot in some way should explain the show. And to a degree it does but just barley and vaugely. 24 has a lot of convoluted plots to it, but due to presentation and gimmick it worked even at it’s worst. Hostages lacks the real time gimmick and hasn’t really intrigued me. At the end of 24 episode 1 I automatically went to episode 2. Given the choice with Hostages, I think I’ll wait and see how the next few weeks play out.