There are rare occasions when a new television show establishes itself so well and gives such a sense of purpose that you feel you’ve been with it all along. Showtime’s Homeland was a fine example, with one of the best drama pilots I’ve ever come across. But Banshee, the new drama from Cinemax, is a close contender. It also has the surprising distinction, so far, of possibly being a contemporary heir-apparent to Deadwood.
The series comes from Alan Ball, who lest we forget, gave us American Beauty and Six Feet Under before he lost his way with True Blood. Banshee is a callback, thankfully, to his earlier work, focusing on that familiar territory of the underbelly of a sleepy, small town. The series’ title comes from the name of the town where the show is set, deep in rural Pennsylvania, in Amish country (or close to it). But despite the rural setting, there is plenty going on. Hit the jump for the specifics and more reasons to give this one a shot.
The gist is this: a jewel thief (Antony Starr), once one of the most notorious in the country, has served his time and is freshly released from prison. With the help of a friend from the underground, he goes after his old partner (Ivana Miličević) who possesses the bounty from the heist that got him sent to prison. But it’s 15 years later, and the woman he once knew as Anna is now a respectable realtor named Carrie, who is married to the District Attorney and has two children. But what of the diamonds from the heist?
Meanwhile, it just so happens (as is so often the case in dramas), that our jewel thief has come to town at the same time as the new Sheriff, but after some hullaballoo (which I won’t spoil), our protagonist assumes the identity of the Sheriff, Lucas Hood, and begins to settle into town. Banshee so happens to also be terribly lawless (luckily), which the new Hood gets dragged into immediately, including being set up against the mob boss of the area, Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen). However, there’s also an uber boss somewhere out there, known only as Mr. Rabbit (Ben Cross) who is still on the lookout for the pair (Carrie and Lucas) who conned him out of his diamonds fifteen years earlier.
This doesn’t even begin to touch the sundry plots of Banshee (one of which features Frankie Faison, a fantastic Wire alum), but it sets up a nice foundation for the rest of the drama to build upon. In just the first two episodes, so much is sprawled out in front of us that characters met in the pilot are nearly obsolete as we meet more and more secondary characters, who all deserve time and story (and get it, in the best of ways).
Back to the Deadwood comparison: a reluctant Sheriff with a questionable past is asked to take on the town kingpin in a lawless place filled with a lot of yahoos. However, there’s also a smart and pretty lady he has feelings for, who happens to be taken. There’s a friendly bartender who helps things lively, and plenty of sex and violence. Sound familiar?
Actually, compared to some HBO fare (True Blood, Game of Thrones), Banshee is positively pious. There’s a little humor in there too, but for the most part Banshee is straight up drama. In addition to the confusing lives of the adults, there also seems to be a decent rebellious teenager subplot as well, handled just as knowingly and deftly as Claire’s from Six Feet Under.
Bottom line: Banshee is a great surprise on the winter TV docket, and absolutely worth the trouble of finding it to watch.
Banshee premieres Friday, January 11 at 10pm on Cinemax.