TNT’s marketing strategy for its new drama Legends, based on a spy novel by Robert Littell, was promoting the Twitter hashtag #DontKillSeanBean. Sean Bean is of course known to certain fans for his exits from TV shows and movies, which has happened often enough to become a running joke that TNT did well to capitalize on. In Legends, Bean plays an FBI undercover officer named Martin Odum, whose main objective is to change his identity, and not get killed (seems to fit). The series comes from Howard Gordon (Homeland), who has had his irons in many TV fires of late (including the mediocre Tyrant). Hit the jump to see if this one has caught flame.
Legends starts out in the middle of things, with Martin deep in an undercover operation with the Citizen’s Army of Virginia, an American terrorist group who fashion themselves as ultimate patriots. His “legend” (which is code for the fake cover story) is a man who seems like an homage to Breaking Bad‘s Walter White (complete with those glasses, a child with special needs, and Cranston’s growl). But after the cover is seemingly blown, it becomes apparent that Martin has some trouble coming back from the deep personas he creates.
The setup of Legends is familiar as a law-enforcement procedural: each week (more or less), Martin assumes a new identity (or takes on an old one) in order to help bring down criminals. He’s supported by the tough and sexy Crystal (Ali Larter) and a warily friendly African-American boss, Yates (Steve Harris), both exemplifying character types who have become tropes of late. The supporting cast also features Tina Majorino as part of Martin’s FBI team, and Amber Valletta as his ex-wife Sonia. (Most impressively, though, the show pulls from Justified‘s old cast list for many great actors in bit roles, much like The Good Wife did with The Wire).
Bean is cool and charismatic as Martin, or as any of the personas he takes on, and the idea that he gets too lost in them to come back fully is a decent one on which to build the series (which will run for 10 episodes in its first season). A subplot involving a mysterious stranger and a growing pile of bodies even suggests that Martin may not even be his true persona — he may be some kind of sleeper agent.
As Martin struggles to unravel this mystery in addition to his daily work, a co-worker begins spying on him, hoping to catch him doing something that will incriminate him. In this way, Legends has set up plenty to work with in terms of short and full-season arcs, but none of them feel particularly fresh. There’s nothing interesting or exceptional about the style or direction, or the way Legendschooses to tell its story. And while it doesn’t mind keeping the stakes high as far as body counts go, it’s a difficult line to walk. While some dramas like Dexter, or even The Following, appear daring at first by killing off those close to the protagonist, it’s not sustainable for long without devolving into farce.
Legends is fine, but it’s not great. The disappointing thing is that it could be a lot better. There’s not a lot of spark or life to it, or enough humor to make it even breezy, late-summer fun. It’s a bog-standard operation: the story, setup, and presentation are all well within TNT’s wheelhouse, and that is also the problem. The network could have — and should have — stretched itself to makeLegends more interesting. A clever marketing campaign can only go so far. One does not simply walk into a hit TV show. How about #BeanDeservesBetter?
Legends premieres Wednesday, August 13th at 9 p.m. on TNT