TV Review: Human Target Pilot (Comic-Con ’09)

Mark Valley is Christopher Chance, a freelance bodyguard at the center of FOX’s new action-adventure show Human Target. Unlike his comic book counterpart, from which the show is based, the TV version of Chance does not, in fact, assume the identity of his employees. Instead, Chance blends into the background in order to flush out the assassin, and then takes him or her out. In that respect, Human Target isn’t really all that different from a lot of shows where a mysterious operative helps people who can’t find help elsewhere. And because he’s so good at his job, Chance gets referrals from sympathetic cops.

In the pilot episode, one such referral lands train engineer/power suit babe Tricia Helfer at Chance’s doorsteps. It seems an assassin once tried to blow up our damsel in distress, but by a stroke of luck, she survived. Now she fears that the assassin is back, and may strike just as she’s about to launch her very expensive bullet train project. Chance takes the job, though his business partner and friend Winston (Chi McBride) would rather he take a break after nearly getting blown up in a previous gig. To help out on the case, Chance calls up Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley), a street hustler who doesn’t exactly look like a street hustler, but does seem to know everyone or how to get to them. Winston and Guerrero do not see eye-to-eye. Okay, that’s not really true. Winston despises Guerrero, but there is a dark past shared between the information gatherer and Chance that is hinted at, but goes unexplored in the pilot.

The Human Target pilot entertains, but it doesn’t wow. Mark Valley was blessed with a square jaw and All-American good looks that allow him to play these type of heroic roles without breaking a sweat, and as Christopher Chance, he more than suits the part. Curiously, I can’t say if Chance is even the best character in the bunch, despite all the mystery surrounding him. The pilot really picks up whenever the slightly sleazy, slightly creepy, and slightly dangerous Guerrero is onscreen trolling various contacts for information to help Chance’s ongoing case. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I know Haley is the new Freddy Krueger that lends to the intrigue factor. Haley’s other big role? The brutal vigilante Rorschach in Zack Snyder’s epic comic book movie “Watchmen”. To be honest with you, seeing Haley in a supporting role on a TV show is a bit strange.

If you weren’t already predisposed to liking Human Target based on its leading man and the concept behind the show, I’m not sure if the pilot, as competently written, directed, and acted as it is, will convince you to give it a chance. It’s a pretty safe show, and I can see it fielding fresh episodes for the first season or two based on its client of the week formula, but eventually that will get predictable. Chance’s mysterious background, and his need to constantly put himself in danger (or as Winston believes, a bit of a death wish), will lend the show a longer lifespan as it is explored and extended in future episodes.

Longtime fans of star Mark Valley may recall that he was the lead in another FOX show a few years back called Keen Eddie, where he played a brash American cop (are there any other type on TV?) banished to London. I kind of liked that one myself, but it didn’t last past its first season, although it was around long enough to introduce the world to a British beauty named Sienna Miller.

Human Target has a decent chance to stay on FOX’s line-up when it premieres in January next year. It’s a relatively safe show, with a charming leading man and a nice, limited supporting cast. I can see the number of supporting players getting expanded, particularly if Haley ends up leaving the show to pursue a thriving movie career, which seems very likely. Human Target isn’t going to wow you, which may be its biggest weakness. It’s entertaining, but it’s just not great. Then again, do you really need to be great anymore to survive in today’s TV marketplace?

I guess we’ll find out in January 2010.

Simon West (director) / Jonathan E. Steinberg (screenplay) / Peter Johnson, Brad Kern, McG, Jonathan E. Steinberg, Simon West (executive producers)
CAST: Jackie Earle Haley … Guerrero
Tricia Helfer …
Danny Glover …
Chi McBride … Winston
Mark Valley … Christopher Chance