Distributed By: 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by Ismael Manzano
Welcome to First Impressions, a new series of articles in which we will discuss the new series of the fall season as they air their first episodes. They may be right, they may be wrong, but it's the new fall season based on our very first thoughts. First this season, Standoff, the new Fox Tuesday night drama. Standoff stars Ron Livingston (Office Space, Sex and the City) and Rosemarie DeWitt (Cinderella Man), as FBI negotiators, Matt Flannery and Emily Lehman. The show opens up with a hostage negotiation in progress in which Flannery, in an effort to stall a disgruntled actor from shooting his kids, confesses to a relationship between him and his partner.
The crux of this episode is a second situation in which a purported Islamic Fundamentalist holds a café shop hostage with a chest full of explosives. A mystery unfolds almost immediately when the terrorists is revealed to be a famous Senator’s—very American—son. The team then struggles to keep the man passive, while they try to unravel his hidden motives, and dealing with the “fallout” of Flannery’s open-mic confession from their superiors and peers.
I purposely left the description short so as to make room for the opinion portion of the article; so let’s get right to it: To start with, I’d like to say that while I loved Livingston in Office Space and in his guest spot in Sex In The City, I was not entirely thrilled with his performance in this show. Flannery is an emotionally detached character, but not so much so that he comes off as jaded or hardened by the job. Maybe its Livingston’s acting, maybe he thinks he’s still stuck in the head of the character from Office Space, or maybe its just the writing, but he comes off as flip with a callous attitude toward his job and his relationship. The moments of romance and concern that he shows seem unnatural or one-dimensional.
Next, I tackle the romance angle that was all but thrown in our faces. In my opinion, a more subtle approach might have been preferable and made for a more textured, richer storyline in future episodes. The fact that their relationship was publicly announced, and that such a relationship is strictly against regulations—as stated more than once in the show—it felt absurd that they were allowed to not only keep their jobs but to keep working together when they were clearly not getting along by that point. If the point of setting up that their after hours relationship threatened their job was to establish greater tension with which to bait the audience, then the writers failed. Opening the show up this way was little more than an obvious ploy to mislead the audience and to draw attention to the romance angle of the show which is sure to be an underlining theme for the entire series.
As a note of praise, I have to say the technical, procedural part of the show appeared well done, informative and managed to build the tension that the romance angle failed to. Aside from the romance and the wooden acting, the hostage situation and the team's attempts to talk him down were commendable. However, I felt that choosing a terrorist-angle for the pilot episode showed a lack of faith in the series on the part of the producers or whoever marketed the show. It felt, to me, as if they were trying to grab the audience’s attention with a sensational, fear-inspiring issue, so that people think the adrenaline boost they got while watching the show was due to the realistic, suspenseful writing, and not the very potent topic of terrorism. It’s not that I think television shows should never cover such a topic, I just feel that the lead show should be more indicative of the overall series, serve to introduce the characters, and set the tone of the show. The episode just didn’t feel like it belonged at the beginning of the series. The reveal of the romance was too quick, and would have been better left in the middle of the series where the audience might actually be fooled into thinking the characters’ jobs might be threatened; this would also allow for a more subtle establishment of their relationship, since it is obvious the show is as much a romance as a drama.
Overall, I found the show technically sound, but nothing so far grabbed my attention, despite the fact that they appeared to “have pulled all their cards for one show,” as my wife pointed out—or at least used many tricks I’ve seen spaced over several other similar shows. This show may appeal to addicts of procedural-crime dramas, but to those just starting out in the genre or just looking for something new to watch, they might want to look elsewhere.
On a personal note, I feel deeply sorry because I was looking forward to supporting Gina Torres in her role as Captain Cheryl Carrera—alliteration at its best—because I loved her in her roles in Angel, Firefly, Serenity, but alas, I don’t think this is a series I will be following. That’s not to say the show is a total wash, it might just be one of those shows that takes more than one episode to get in to. For those of you who have the patience to wait for the diamond in the rough, by all means, check it out. I might do the same, and if I’m wrong, I’ll be sure to apologize, but for now, I can only comment on what I thought of the first episode. For the sake of Gina Torres, I hope I have the chance to eat my print.