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TV Review: NBC’s Crisis Is All Heist, No Jewels

The 2006–07 TV season was a largely crummy one, but it involved the premieres of several shows that were very similar: Kidnapped, Vanished, Runaway, and The Nine, all of which involved kidnappings and vanishings, and rich people being held hostage, and nice-seeming families who weren't exactly who they said they were, and double agents and secret agents and FBI agents. NBC's new drama Crisis, which premieres Sunday at 9 p.m., would have fit in nicely with these shows. It's about a kidnapping, there are FBI agents, familiar faces — Gillian Anderson and Dermot Mulroney, in particular — a few good twists, and a persistent sensation of disposability. Crisis is functional enough, but I get the feeling that the next time I write about it, it'll be in eight years, in the intro to a review of another show; between now and then, there will be nothing much to say about Crisis.

The crisis in question is a perfectly good one, as far as setups like this go: Highly skilled kidnappers hijack a bus transporting kids on a high school field trip. And they're not any high school kids, of course. The class includes the president's son, the child of an ambassador, a few offspring from the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, etc. Anderson plays one of those CEOs, while Mulroney is the sad sack dad chaperoning his surly daughter's trip. The kidnapping is all very sophisticated, with perpetrators in creepy masks (reminiscent of another 2006 show, Smith, which was big on mask-y things), and Secret Service agents apparently in on the whole thing. At their criminal lair, there are lots of big screens, so you know they're your really spare-no-expense kind of criminals. These screens of course display some windows that are black boxes with scrolling white text that's the go-to visual cue for "hacker thing."

There's a lot of shouting into telephones on Crisis. A lot of mysterious manilla envelopes. A lot of shots of newscasts narrating what we already know is happening. Anderson's CEO character? Her sister's in the FBI, if you can believe it! They have a strained relationship and an important secret that most viewers who have ever seen a TV show before will probably guess right away. A tremendous portion of this show feels like extra footage from other shows — other serviceable, competent, but across the board unspectacular shows. The pilot introduces a lot of story, and by the second episode things have gotten so convoluted I couldn't help but laugh at some of the dialogue. Is this a criminal enterprise or a Rube Goldberg contraption?

I get why NBC would want in on a political thriller like Homeland or The Americans. Anyone would! Those shows are great! (Mostly.) But I'd probably watch a show about Homeland's Carrie and Saul even if they opened a brick-oven pizza place and gave up espionage for good. I'd watch The Americans' Peter and Elizabeth explain how tax deductions work, even if they never put on another sex wig again. The tension and action and violence on those shows is great, but that's the gravy and not the meat; those are shows about unique characters whose interior lives are intensely, almost inherently fascinating. Crisis is just the bowl of gravy. It tastes okay on its own, I guess, but you can't really make a meal out of it.

Photo: NBC