The Overhyped Action Drama From Fox That's Fun to Watch

Media Reviews for Media People: 'Human Target'

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Like many indoor-living enthusiasts, I spent the last two weekends burrowed deep in the couch, my eyes fixed upon the Lord's munificent bounty of NFL playoff games. Even as six of the eight contests disappointed, I remained motionless and slack-jawed, a steady drip of guacamole runoff moistening my lapel. The takeaway, as always: Bad football trumps good interpersonal interaction.

'Human Target'
'Human Target' Credit: Fox
To consume 86 consecutive hours of sports, though, is to consume all the marketing detritus that accompanies it. During the early rounds of the NFL playoffs or the World Series, that means sitting through hundreds of promos for the same six soon-to-debut network shows.

Fox pioneered this aggresso-obnoxious tactic several years back, flogging "Skin" with Terminator-like single-mindedness. The show boasted an intriguing presence: a "Romeo and Juliet" dalliance between the daughter of a porn magnate and the son of the haughty, Spitzerian hard-ass seeking to prosecute said magnate ("his father is... THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY!"). But after 3,224 Fox promos during the Yankees/Red Sox ALCS, I wouldn't have watched it under any circumstance, not even at knifepoint.

I wasn't alone. Despite warm critical notices, "Skin" died a fast death. I have to think that if the promotional barrage hadn't drained the show of every iota of mystery, more viewers would've given it a shot.

Every year since then, I've identified the show most-promo'd during a sustained stretch of sports and set about trying to undermine it any way possible. I told friends that the folks behind the "Knight Rider" update used unpaid child laborers to buff K.I.T.T.'s bumpers; I alleged that the eponymous star of "Frank TV" was a Nazi sympathizer. Hey, if network marketers want to get all up in my grill, they leave me no choice but to return fire.

Heading into the final stretch of the NFL playoffs, we have three candidates for the Most Soul-Deflatingly Overhyped Show trophy. NBC, as usual, heads up the rear, having pushed "Chuck" in a way that appealed less to football cavemen than to Edith Wharton loyalists. CBS claims the silver with its bland spots for "The Mentalist," centering the promos (and, from the looks of it, the show's sophomore-season storylines) around the protagonist's canyon-deep dimples.

Kudos, then, go to Fox's marketeers, who have again risen above the madding crowd and staked out a prestigious place of scorn in our hearts and our minds. They didn't just flog "Human Target" over the last two weekends; they tattooed it on my cerebral cortex. The "Human Target" promos were more of a presence in my living room than the dog or the ottoman. They haunted my dreams. They made me hate TV and, by extension, myself.

(As a related aside, I don't quite understand why Bud Light and DirecTV burn so many of their ad dollars on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. I mean, by the time I sit down to watch some football, I've already got a fridge full of frosty beverages and an operational TV set. Marketers, try pitching me stuff like this on Friday afternoon, when I'm not drunk yet.)

Anyway, in its myriad promos, "Human Target" came across as overstyled and exhausting, kind of a "Lethal Weapon"/"MacGyver" mash-up minus MacGyver's awesome makeshift nunchakus forged from a coat hanger and two grapefruits. Imagine my surprise, then, when the show proved one of the most airily entertaining action-dramas to debut on network TV in quite some time. In fact, Fox did "Human Target" a second disservice by debuting it right in front of the overshadowing "24" season premiere: "Human Target" is twice as interesting as its dour network sibling and 36,000 times more fun.

Like USA Network's unabashedly mainstream offerings -- "White Collar" and "Burn Notice" in particular -- "Human Target" doesn't seek to redefine a genre, create indelible characters or employ inventive narrative devices. It doesn't construct elaborate mythologies or tantalize with clever wordplay. Instead, it presents 44 minutes of froth and practically orders viewers to put their brains on hiatus for the duration.

The show, adapted from the comic book of the same name, centers around protection-for-hire racketeer Christopher Chance. Backed by two cronies -- Jackie Earle Haley as a snide-hacker sort and Chi McBride as the de rigueur beleaguered operative -- Chance puts himself on the line to keep his clients out of harm's way. In the process, lots of crap goes kablammo. That's all.

"Human Target" has no mismatched-but-maybe-not romantic interest for Chance. It has no back stories that unfold over the course of a multi-episode arc. The good guys win and the bad guys lose. Works for me. If more TV dramas had such modest ambitions, we wouldn't be forced to endure talk-show-at-10 experiments.

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