September 23, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “The Player”


THE PLAYER:  Thursday 10PM on NBC – Change the Channel

How fond are you of grade-B basic cable action series?  Do you watch the anonymous movies your cable/satellite service piles on its pay-per-view schedule each week?  Do you remember Cannon Films, and are you nostalgic for its product?  Does it mean something to you that one of the featured cast members of NBC’s new THE PLAYER is Wesley Snipes?

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, NBC will be very happy to make your acquaintance.  For the rest of us, The Player represents an alarming extreme of what appears to be a new trend:  as cable attempts to raise its sights, the broadcast networks shrink to the kind of mediocrity that used to be demeaned with the term “basic cable.”

The Player comes by its crappiness honestly:  its lead creator John Rogers is also the man behind The Librarians and Leverage, two shows that–to be fair–have had healthy runs, despite being instantly forgettable, working with John Fox, a producer (but not writer) of The Blacklist, which has recently become just as disposable (and which will be The Player‘s lead-in on Thursdays).  Their new vehicle is just as bland as their credits, although with a high-tech twist or two.  Its hero Alex Kane (Philip Winchester), a former soldier and now a security consultant, foils an assassination attempt in Las Vegas at the start of the pilot, but is unable to prevent a personal tragedy.  All of this is prologue to the show’s real plot:  it develops that a shadowy group of ultra-high-rollers has been betting on whether he would be able to stand in the way of these crimes being committed, and Kane is recruited to take on this position full-time.  His associates are a “dealer” known as Cassandra (Charity Wakefield), who will give him his assignments, and a “pit boss” named Mr. Johnson (Snipes), who brokers the transactions and the yet-to-be-committed crimes.

It’s all a very fancy set-up for what will just be another procedural, with a surveillance angle that echoes Person of Interest (clearly the most influential show of the fall, even though this may turn out to be its last season).  As that series shows, it’s possible to do this sort of thing intelligently and with some sense of broader issues, but the Player pilot doesn’t provide any suggestion of that kind of potential.  Nor is it particularly exciting, as directed by Bharat Nalluri.

The acting is a reminder that cardboard is even less useful than wood, and the script is all exposition, all the time.  Last year NBC tried partnering The Blacklist with The Slap and Allegiance, both ambitious shows that failed creatively and in the ratings.  This year, the network has plainly decided that it won’t take that risk again, and is instead pairing its faded flagship drama with an action series that’s even dumber.  Perhaps it will work, at least in the short-term–certainly Blindspot, which is only moderately better, is off to a good start on Mondays.  But if shows like this are the future of network television, it’s fair to ask what kind of future the medium really has.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."