Hostage dramas should be among the easiest television shows to create. After all, it stands to reason that as long as one or several characters are held captive, you have a good chance at a captive audience as well.
Maybe because the formula looks so easy on the surface and because it’s such a staple of film and TV, there’s often a temptation to gussy it up one way or another – that’s what CBS has done with the limited series “Hostages,” for example. The problem is, the more stuff you add to the formula, the more you’re in danger of giving that captive audience reason to escape.
Creator Rand Ravich avoids some of those traps – but not all of them – in the first two episodes of his new thriller, “Crisis,” premiering Sunday on NBC. Do cliches abound? Do they ever. But “Crisis” is moderately entertaining thanks to well-paced direction, some competent character development, and the presence of Gillian Anderson in the pivotal role as a take-no-prisoners corporate CEO.
A class trip for private school students in suburban Washington, D.C., turns to mayhem when their bus is ambushed on a remote country road, a Secret Service agent is wounded and most of the kids are spirited away by masked bad guys. The reason rookie agent Marcus Finley (Lance Gross) and veteran Agent Hurst (Wyatt Andrews) are trailing the bus is that it’s packed with the children of D.C’s rich, famous and powerful, including Kyle Devore (Adam Scott Miller), the president’s son.
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In the chaos of the ambush, Finley manages to get away with one of the students – chubby, brainy outcast Anton Roth (Joshua Erenberg) – while the rest of the class and parent chaperone Francis Gibson (Dermot Mulroney), a former CIA analyst, are taken away, knocked out and wake up in a large room in an empty mansion.
Gibson was never rich or powerful, even before his career as a CIA analyst blew up. But his daughter, Beth Ann (Stevie Lynn Jones), is a scholarship student at the school and he says he’s volunteered to chaperone the trip in order to spend some time with her to repair their relationship. She and another scholarship kid, Ian Martinez (Max Schneider), are routinely bullied and ostracized by many of their privileged classmates.
At this point, “Crisis” gets writerly. How about having the lead FBI agent Susie Dunn (Rachael Taylor) be the estranged younger sister of tycoon Meg Fitch (Anderson), whose pretty, popular daughter Amber (Halston Sage) is on the bus? And what if there’s another complicated link between them we don’t know about for a while? That particular big reveal stretches credibility to the limit but is key to the artificiality of character motivation and plot developments.
And then there’s the whole matter of who has masterminded the kidnapping and, more important, who is really on one side or the other? It all comes down to how far the well-heeled and well-connected parents will go to get their kids back.
The best and most credibly written character in all of this is pudgy little Anton Roth, and Erenberg nails his role. The other actors have to get by on their own talent because they get minimal help from the script. As you might expect, Anderson is such a magnetic actor we barely notice the contradictions in how her character is written. Mulroney is a good actor as well, but the script pretty much does him in.
In spite of its shaky construction, “Crisis” gets our attention, at least in the first two episodes. The action is so rapid-fire, you probably won’t notice the fragility of the overly complicated premise. If we remain on the edge of our seats as “Crisis” continues, the problems will diminish. If not, the entire contraption may very well fall apart.