tv review

The Player Is Playing a Dumb Game

The Player - Season Pilot
Wesley Snipes as Mr. Johnson. Photo: Gregory E. Peters/NBC

The Player might not be the dumbest show of all time … but it’s up there. At some point, when our main dude is riding his motorcycle through an abandoned mall while bad guys fire their machine guns at him, everything about this show clicks into place. This is just gonna be a show where breakaway glass is a main character and you’re never more than two minutes away from a hurricane of gunshots. It’s in Las Vegas, so there’s lots of glass to break and lots of people to shoot and be shot by.

Philip Winchester stars as Alex Kane, a security consultant who doesn’t mind punching people and likes to crash through windows if need be. You know, for security. So far, so good. But then, through bafflingly convoluted means, he encounters Wesley Snipes, who’s “Mr. Johnson.” Mr. Johnson explains that he and his brethren have developed a way to predict crimes (o … kay) and that the superrich like to bet on whether those crimes will occur (whaaa) and that maybe Mr. Kane wants to join them as their crime-thwarter as part of the “house” (farewell, Earth). Mr. Johnson is the pit boss, and a tense British woman named Cassandra (Charity Wakefield) is the dealer, making Mr. Kane the titular player. This is all explained with faux-fancy technology, like 3-D projections that seem to leap from a tablet, or a desk that creates a holographic display out of nowhere.

The series’ distinguishing factor is that it has Wesley Snipes, but it’s not a particularly electrifying performance. At one point, there’s a stare-down, while our incredulous Alex listens to Mr. Johnson explain what’s afoot. “Mr. Kane,” he murmurs, “do I look like I’m insane?” Apparently the answer is no, because Alex leaps into action and stops a kidnapping 45 seconds later. But the actual real answer is “of course you do,” which the show does not acknowledge or maybe even recognize.

The Player is flashy nonsense. And we already have other flashy nonsense in the same vein: The Blacklist, Person of Interest, Scorpion, but also loads of cop-with-a-dead-wife stories, lots of somehow-I-am-the-only-person-stopping-terrorism stories, lots of behold-the-luxurious-depravity-of-the-super-wealthy stories. Are there tires squealing at every possible second? Yes, the road scenes sound like a pile of pigs performing an opera. Does the show try to jam in some “am I a good man … or a bad man” lines, as if that will distract from the fact that the premise makes almost no sense? Oh boy, does it. Is there an ominous catchphrase? Place your bets. (That is the ominous catchphrase.)

NBC hopes The Player pairs well with its hit The Blacklist, and it seems like a reasonable-enough fit: The shows do have plenty in common, particularly their love of needless convolution. America is apparently super desperate for James Spader in fedoras; can a thirst for riding motorcycles through malls be far behind?

The Player Is Playing a Dumb Game