Cinemax has been re-branding themselves as a network with an edge. It’s like the Spike TV of the premium channels now in case you need action, babes, and more action. They have partnered with the BBC in order to deliver a brand new series to the screen called Hunted starring Melissa George of In Treatment and 30 Days of Night fame. It has international locations, action, conspiracy, suspense and sexiness in the form of its lead actress. Cinemax has been targeting the demographic of those intrigued with beautiful scenery and people blowing some crap up in the same vein of another action series on air, Strike Back, so they decided to pursue this new angle. They succeed in establishing this world of backstabbing and the private sector of espionage in the pilot, even if it feels inconsistent with the pacing. However, the appeal of Melissa George and her team behind her spy kept me anxious to see what will happen next.
Hunted comes from the mind of Frank Spotnitz, who was a writer and producer of the cult hit X-Files. Melissa George plays Sam Hunter, a spy who works for a private security team where morals can also be for hire. She’s excellent at what she does and approaches her job with a vigor and efficiency reserved for the James Bonds and Jack Bauers of the world. However, after a recent job, she was ambushed, shot in the stomach and left for dead. This turns out to be tragic news as she was pregnant at the time. We pick her up a year later, conditioning and training herself physically and mentally to return to her former job. We get flashbacks showing previous trauma from her childhood in bits and pieces and how it may affect her own journey back from the dead. Once she feels back up to the task, she makes her way back to Byzantium, her old agency. However, she does so with the knowledge of weeding out the only people who knew where she could have been ambushed. She has been keeping tabs on them this whole time, looking for revenge for her loss and fall from grace in hopes of finding the truth. She has her eye on everyone and obviously monitoring the movements and possible alternative motives of those that work in a spy agency is an arduous task.
Other people at Byzantium include her behind closed doors boss, Rupert Keel (Stephen Dillane, lately of Game of Thrones), who is suspicious of a mole in his agency coincidentally when she resurfaces. Deacon Crane, (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje of Oz and Lost fame) is her field agent boss who also expresses doubts about her return to work but they both receive an important assignment and need her help. Her co-workers are also shocked in her return to action, most especially Aidan Marsh (Adam Rayner), who was her boyfriend at the time of her (and his child’s) ambush. However, this assignment takes precedence as she must infiltrate a powerful family headed by Jack Turner (Patrick Malahide), who has a paranoid nature to any outside party and obviously is a threat to the client who hired Byzantium to find out what he is up to. It’s up to Sam to get back in the saddle and get down to business, while also keeping an eye on her own back as her support team could contain the person who wanted to remove her from the picture only a year earlier.
There are a lot of things to explain in the pilot and obviously there must be a lot of exposition in trying to set up Sam’s identity and inner focus on why she does what she does. Sometimes this tends to keep things at a slow pace because you are being fed so much information that it can become overwhelming and stops the pace so the audience can catch up. Hopefully the next episodes can establish a quicker jump into the story because there is a lot intrigue to be had in the story. Spy stories can be tricky in where it might be difficult to root for one party over another because of the moral ambiguity that comes with the job but Spotnitz, who wrote the pilot, does a good job in letting everyone chime in without alienating the audience from the star and still not beat us over the head with her inner turmoil. With his expertise in conspiracies and who-should-you-trust back and forths, Spotnitz is great in making sure everyone looks like a friend and enemy at the same time.
The cast also comes through in a big way. George is terrific (I honestly thought the Australian actress was American until I looked her profile up on IMDB for this review) and provides depth to a character that is shrouded in so much secrecy, another actress might have come off as vacant in her blank stares. However, George can flip the switch on being cold and calculated, to elated and happy, to full of vengeance, all in one episode. I’m excited to see what she does with her work on here as she plays femme fatale and wounded extremely well. I look forward to see where her Kill Bill-esque journey goes. The supporting cast is good with Dillane and Akinnuoye-Agbaje standing out in their roles as the brains and technical expertise of their business. Playing a spy can be difficult because they must be able to play around emotions that can be taken in several different ways in order to mask the real person inside and this cast leads the way in letting us in, while leaving enough gray area to keep us guessing who has secondary intentions. Also props for them finding the awesomely named Blank-Faced Man (Scott Handy) because his creepiness and accuracy with a needle in his hand will be the talking point of this episode.
The photography of the pilot is great as it takes us to Tangier, the English countryside, and London and captures the international intrigue of a spy movie, most notably the Bourne movies. There always is a purpose with each shot in establishing action and letting the imagery become another character to enhance the mood and sell the story. The action choreography is decent, even though with the Bourne series being an inspiration, it suffers from shaky cam action way too much as feels disjointed to where the action comes off as unwatchable at times because it cuts away after every move in order to disorient the audience, only in a way not intended. As I said before, I look forward to see how they use the actors and environments and how they blend into these spy games.
This series has the potential to be good and as long as they do not linger and keep the pacing sharp, this could be a hit for Cinemax. Keep an eye on Melissa George and the cast because they sell the pilot and series. I look forward to see where they take this story and build on the momentum of the pilot. Keep the intrigue up and the action fast and you got yourselves a new action, thriller series the fall has been lacking on television.