'Human Target' review: It hits the mark

mark-valley-human-target-320.jpgThere are no huge mysteries at the core of "Human Target," no deep back story that's going to require a whole lot of pondering and unpacking after every episode.

And that's more than all right. What "Human Target" does have a whole lot of is fun. It's a somewhat old-fashioned and pretty kick-ass hour of TV, with great action sequences in the first two episodes and, probably more important, well-turned performances by its three regulars: Mark Valley, Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley.

The show is based on the DC/Vertigo comic of the same name and stars Valley as Christopher Chance, a hyper-competent private security expert who's called in to protect clients when regular protective measures won't cut it. Unlike the comics, where Chance actually becomes the people he protects through elaborate disguises, the show's Chance is basically the world's best bodyguard, skilled at all manner of combat, incredibly observant and a little bit nuts.

The decision not to turn Chance into his protectees is a good one; Valley can be a charismatic actor (and, as an Army veteran, he's convincing when it comes to the physical demands of the part), and it just makes more sense to have the star of the show, and not a different guest star each week, be at the center of the action.

I say that Valley "can be" charismatic because at times in his career it's felt like his employers didn't really know how to use him. That's not an issue in "Human Target" -- Valley shifts easily between action, drama and scenes that are played with a little bit of a smirk. As I watched the first two episodes, I kept thinking of "Keen Eddie," the poorly treated but highly watchable FOX series from a few years back that starred Valley and used him terrifically. The same is true here.

As Chance's partner Vincent, McBride gets to show off some of his considerable comic chops as well, particularly in scenes where Haley's Guerrero -- a shady hacker who helps out when he's needed -- is involved.  

The show also operates at a pretty high level when it comes to the frequent action sequences. Sunday's (Jan. 17) premiere takes place mostly aboard a high-speed train and features a couple of well-choreographed large stunts as well as a fantastic (and lengthy) fight scene in a cargo car. The second episode, which will air Wednesday (Jan. 20), the show's regular night, has a couple other good fights (one of which involves McBride) in close quarters on a plane.

That second episode does feel somewhat more constrained than the pilot, but the show doesn't suffer for it. There are fewer slam-bang stunts than in the pilot -- as tends to be the case on any show once the week-to-week rigors of production kick in -- but the pacing and performances are such that there doesn't need to be an explosion in every act.

"Human Target" also has one of the cooler opening-credit sequences on television today, and the score -- by "Battlestar Galactica" composer Bear McCreary -- is excellent. Take a look at the credits:



Circling back to the point I made at the top of this post, it sometimes feels like there's a belief among TV fans that a drama has to be complex for it to be good. I love getting sucked into the rich tapestries of "Lost" and "Mad Men" and "The Wire," but I also really like watching the off-center heroes of "Burn Notice" and "Castle" wrap up a case a week. And like those shows, there are hints in the early going of "Human Target" that there's more to unpack in their lead characters than what's on the surface.  

That mix of close-ended stories and longer-arc character development has undergone a renaissance in the past few seasons with shows like "House," "Bones," "Chuck" and the aforementioned "Burn Notice" and "Castle." "Human Target" is a worthy addition to that class.
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"Human Target" premieres at 8 p.m. ET Sunday, Jan. 17 on FOX and moves to Wednesdays starting Jan. 20.

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Photo credit: FOX