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Review: James Spader owns "The Blacklist"

"The Blacklist" season 1

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What to make of NBC’s “The Blacklist,” which arrives on DVD today ahead of its upcoming September 22 second season premiere? The show is like a mix-tape of numerous other shows on TV, a little bit of “CSI” here, some “Hannibal” there. James Spader stars as Raymond “Red” Reddington, an international super-villain who mysteriously surrenders at FBI headquarters one day with an offer to help the agency capture the world’s worst criminals.

Season 1 of "The Blacklist" premieres on DVD today.
Season 1 of "The Blacklist" premieres on DVD today.Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney
"The Blacklist" season 1 arrives on DVD.
"The Blacklist" season 1 arrives on DVD.Promo Editorial Image

The pilot of “The Blacklist”, directed by Joe Carnahan, features some thrilling action sequences which go above and beyond the standard network TV fare, and sets the action-thriller template for the rest of the series. The show is surprisingly violent (there seem to be people shot in the head in every episode), and explosions are plentiful. However, the best pyrotechnics belong to Spader, who completely owns the show with his portrayal. Spader is dependably fantastic; unfortunately, the rest of the cast is in his shadow.

Quite simply, the characters at the FBI simply aren’t very compelling. Megan Boone portrays Elizabeth Keen, an FBI profiler who serves as Reddington’s sole contact with the FBI. We spend half of each episode with her character, yet she becomes more opaque as a character as the season continues, and even seems to get less competent at her job with each episode. Diego Klatenhoff, fresh off being a bland distraction on "Homeland," plays a bland distraction working with Keen in the FBI. At first, he's wary of Reddington, but as the season goes on, he becomes an ally, and at no point is this subplot compelling. The FBI is also completely inept in this series, letting Reddington travel freely and kill people and trick the agency at every turn. It’s difficult to root for gullible dupes, and Spader makes them look foolish week after week.

The show also hits all of current TV cliches, from the endless expository dialogue to the corny fake-out dream sequences to the in media res show opening to the obligatory show-closing musical montage featuring a song from a bland indie folk act. At times, the show is generic to the point of frustration.

Except, of course, for James Spader, who carries as much of the show as he can. Suave, scheming and manipulative, it’s a role right in Spader’s wheelhouse, a five-star performance on a two-star show.

The audio/visual quality is decent for network TV. This is a show with a constantly booming soundtrack; your subwoofer will get a workout.

To view photos of the cast and crew of “The Blacklist,” view the slideshow above.