Season Premiere — Human Target, “Ilsa Pucci”

Writing about the Human Target season two premiere is particularly interesting to me for a few reasons. First of all, I have rarely, if ever, just jumped into a series without seeing most of the episodes leading up to said jump-in point. I literally can’t think of any series that I’ve done that with in my regular television viewing life. Thus, watching this episode and presumably, a number of episodes this season after only seeing the Human Target pilot and perhaps half of the second episode will serve as something of an interesting experience for me as a viewer and a volunteer critic.

Secondly, Human Target is perhaps a perfect — some might say problematic, though — series to do this with, as the series has undergone something of a retooling in between seasons one and two, most notably through the hiring of Matt Miller of Chuck fame as the showrunner and also through the addition of two new female characters to a previously all-male lead cast. Therefore, on one hand, I won’t be able to absolutely spot out the changes between this episode and the majority of season one, but on the other hand, I’ll be perhaps more impartial and able to evaluate the series for what it is now in this form.

And in short, this form of the series is fairly enjoyable. But even for someone not familiar with the “old” Human Target, “Ilsa Pucci” still feels like it’s straining to change things up just slightly in such a way that it holds back from being an overwhelmingly enjoyable hour. I prepared myself for my viewing by listening to Matt Miller on the Ryan and Ryan podcast – you should too — and they worked through some of the changes Miller made, but while I see where he’s coming from, I’m not sure what the overall impact of those changes will be. The theme song has been altered — don’t get folks on Twitter going about that one — there’s more needle drop music instead of a score and things are apparently a bit brighter because Miller wants to make the world seem less suffocating and emphasize the locales.

Because those things are basically aesthetic changes that mean nothing to me as a (basically) first-time viewer, I’m not annoyed or bothered by them. I think the musical selections were okay, but felt perhaps too Josh Schwartzian for a series that doesn’t really fit that mold. I hate to make the Chuck comparisons because this isn’t Chuck 2.0, but the music is the one place where Miller’s previous experiences are most notable. Frankly, I don’t care for either iterations of the theme song and any series that doesn’t look like it’s always made on a set in Vancouver works for me.

However, I have to wonder about the real value of these changes. I understand they’re being made in an attempt to make the series more friendly to a broader audience, but I’m not sure that’s really in the cards for this series anyway, so risking annoying the small, but apparently fervent based on the theme song hubbub outcry, seems slightly questionable. I’d love nothing more for Human Target to be a massive hit, but if it’s not going to be and the changes aren’t going to be big enough to attract a sizable increase…I dunno. I get it and again, I’m glad FOX is actually trying to make this a performer since 24 is gone, but none of these changes seem worthwhile enough.

And from what I can tell,  based on my research on the series, comments from folks on Twitter and the content of the episode itself, it seems really, really obvious that Miller and company are trying to ditch whatever sort of cliffhanger and story the series set up at the end of season one. Within five minutes, what seems like a fairly important situation is dispatched, some false drama is introduced and then the episode kicks into its procedural case of the week. Again, for me, that’s not really a problem in an offensive way, it’s just really obvious. I don’t think there’s much way to get around that kind of thing, but I can’t not comment on it.

The final change-up, the additions of the women, make the most sense. It’s an obvious “Let’s make this series appealing to more demographics!” move, particularly with the sparks between Ilsa and Chance, but she especially seems to fit into the series in a nice way. As someone really charmed by Luther, or at least the performances in Luther, I’m happy to have more Indira Varma on my television each week and if it means cooler explosions or something, fine by me.

Janet Montgomery’s Ames is much more problematic because she clearly exists just to create drama — whereas, at least here, Ilsa is a supporting player to ongoing action — but I do like that she can also serve as a way to peel back the very insular process the three men have when completing a job. The nicknamed tactics is charming, but I know when the latter “Ocean’s” films did that a lot of people were turned off, so it makes sense to at least have her around to question that.

But perhaps more importantly, the things I kept hearing about last season in reference to Human Target — really great action, wonderful chemistry between and performances from the three male leads — are all still here. There aren’t any major set pieces here, but those action sequences that do happen have some scale to them in ways that really no other series seems to be doing right now on broadcast television. Mark Valley is good in the lead role, Chi McBride is Chi McBride and for god’s sake, Jackie Earle Haley’s Guerrero punches Ames right in the face with no questions asked. I’m not condoning violence against women, but that was a fun moment.

And from Human Target, that’s all I’m really looking for. I stuck with 24 all the way through hoping for a few cool action-heavy thrilling moments, I still watch Chuck, so I don’t have a problem with either the aforementioned changes or the parts of the series that still seem to be intact from the season one iteration. I suspect after all the makeshift rebooting is over in an episode or two, S1 fans will be less upset and come to enjoy this series again — except for that freaking theme song, apparently.

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