RANSOM: Saturday 8PM on CBS – Change the Channel
There’s literally one thing worth knowing about CBS’s new RANSOM, and here it is: it’s the first scripted broadcast network series in quite a while to be scheduled for initial airing on Saturday nights, as opposed to being dumped there after failing elsewhere on the schedule like Aquarius or Hannibal. But this is less of an event than it may appear, because CBS has been airing procedural reruns for years on Saturdays, and this low-cost Canadian import will fit right in, because it feels like a rerun already–and not a particularly good one.
The plot revolves around a private firm based in Montreal that specializes in negotiations with criminals, notably hostage-takers and kidnappers. The company is run by unflappable Eric Beaumont (Luke Roberts), who works with psychological expert Oliver Yates (Brandon Jay McLaren) and ex-cop Zara Hallam (Nazneen Contractor). Our entry point into the story is new arrival Maxine Carlson (Sarah Greene), who in the show’s single piece of characterization is revealed to the the daughter of a woman who died as a result of one of Eric’s failures. For those who care, more about that backstory will presumably be told as the series goes on.
The plotting of the pilot is awful, even by B-level procedural standards. It starts with a potentially interesting idea, where the pair who kidnapped a child years earlier for sale to a childless couple take the child back to ransom him to the desperate birth parents. But the script, by co-creator David Vainola (from a story credited to Vainola and fellow co-creator Frank Spotnitz, a much more experienced hand who created The Man In The High Castle and was its Season 1 showrunner), doesn’t develop any of the emotions that might come with that story, relying instead on ridiculous coincidence and contrivance. (At one point, the birth parents are handed the independent DNA lab report proving that the kidnapped boy is their child, and seconds later, the kidnappers call to find out whether the DNA report has come through.) The main villain is a heavily-accented thug who could have crossed over from a Steven Seagal movie.
Nor is there any promise at all in the continuing characters. Roberts is wooden as the company’s lead, and Contractor and McLaren are purely functional, leaving Greene as the only person on screen with even half a character to play–and that’s about all she has. Richard J. Lewis’s direction does the best it can with a slender budget.
There’s ample evidence that viewers will watch programming on Saturday nights that they want to see, from sports events to Saturday Night Live to Starz hits like Power and Outlander. But Ransom isn’t going to rouse anyone, interchangeable as it is with the assets CBS already stacks on that night.