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James Spader, Harry Lennix, Megan Boone, Diego Klattenhoff, Ryan Eggold
Writing Credits:

Never Trust a Criminal... Until You Have To.

For decades, ex-government agent Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader, TV’s “The Office,” “Boston Legal”) has been one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives. Brokering shadowy deals for criminals across the globe, Red was known by many as “The concierge of Crime.” Now, he’s mysteriously surrendered to the FBI with an explosive offer: he will help catch the world’s most elusive criminals, under the condition that he speaks only to Elizabeth “Liz” Keen (Megan Boone, TV’s “Law & Order: Los Angeles”), an FBI profiler fresh out of Quantico. For Liz, it’s going to be one hell of a first day on the job.

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 939 min.
Price: $69.99
Release Date: 8/12/14

• Audio Commentaries for Three Episodes
• “Beyond the Blacklist” Featurettes
• “The Insider: Behind the Scenes of Season One” Featurette


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Blacklist: Season One (2013-14)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 11, 2014)

With The Blacklist, we find NBC’s popular new take on the TV crime drama. This Season One package includes all 22 episodes that aired across 2013-14. The plot synopses come straight from the DVD’s insert.

Pilot: “Fugitive criminal mastermind Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) offers to help the FBI apprehend a long list of terrorists and criminals, but only if he can work with rookie agent and criminal profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).” Leaving aside the obvious Silence of the Lambs influence, the “Pilot” comes with an interesting premise, and it certainly sets up the series for a virtually unending run of episodes that focus on the Baddie of the Week.

The question becomes how well Blacklist will sustain interest. Perhaps because I’m too used to cable programming – which tends to lack the strident feel of network material – “Pilot” comes across as rather insistent and over the top much of the time. It batters us with quick editing and urgent musical cues, tendencies that may make the series tiresome before long. The debut does intrigue and entertain, though, so I’m semi-hopeful the rest of the year will keep me interested.

The Freelancer (No. 145): “As Red offers to turn over an elusive assassin whose next target is a high-profile anti-human-trafficking activist, he ensures Liz’s continued cooperation with hints of troubling secrets in her comatose husband’s past.” “Freelancer” doesn’t negate the overwrought traits in “Pilot”, but it shows the series’ potential strengths via the aforementioned nearly unending story possibilities. The episode develops a good story and delivers a fun, involving experience.

Wujing (No. 84): “Red takes Liz on an undercover assignment to bring down a freelance Chinese spy who’s targeting CIA agents.” I still don’t like the hyper editing and the oppressive musical score, but even with those issues, Blacklist continues to entertain. “Wujing” benefits from a solid guest star in Chin Han as well as another exciting story.

The Stewmaker (No. 161): “When a witness in the murder trial of a ruthless cartel boss disappears, Red sends Liz and Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) on a search for the Blacklist’s No. 161, a gruesome hitman known as the Stewmaker.” Given the series’ Silence of the Lambs influence, it may seem a bit on the nose to cast Tom Noonan as the Stewmaker. He played the villain in 1986’s Manhunter, the first film to feature Hannibal Lecter, and I can’t imagine no one on the show made the connection.

Clever-clever links aside, I like the casting, as Noonan does creepy about as well as anyone out there, and he brings the needed unnerving quality to the part. He helps make this another solid show.

The Courier (No. 85): “Red sends Liz and Ressler in a hunt for a kidnap victim and his abductor – the Blacklist’s No. 85, a secretive criminal courier whose inability to feel pain makes him impossible to stop. Liz uncovers evidence linking Tom (Ryan Eggold) to a Russian defector’s unsolved murder.” Good casting again aids an episode, as Robert Knepper brings a cool darkness to the Courier. Other ongoing plots deepen as well in this engaging program.

Gina Zanetakos {No. 152): “Liz’s search for corporate terrorist Gina Zanetakos (Margarita Levieva) exposes a plot to detonate a radioactive bomb and uncovers evidence linking Tom to the murder of a Russian defector.” To date, the Tom subplot bubbled beneath the surface, but it comes more to the fore here. That’s good in a way, mainly because I’d like to see it resolved; Tom seems like a dud of a character, so I’d love to lose him as a narrative motivator. “Gina” may resolve the issue, but I strongly suspect it’ll continue to develop.

The emphasis on Tom makes this a less interesting than usual show, especially because we don’t get a whole lot of Red; he makes the series tick and episodes that diminish his presence don’t work as well. At least we get a fun nod toward JFK in one scene.

Frederick Barnes (No. 47): “Red leads Liz in the search for a deranged chemical weapons expert who unleashes a rare but fatal disease in the DC subway.” While it’s good to go back to a focus on “Blacklist” subjects and not the Tom subplot, “Barnes” falls short of prior glories. It gives us an interesting twist on the usual lowlifes that we find, but it doesn’t manage to turn into an especially involving show.

Trivia footnote: I hate to pick on creative works that botch location specifics; these happen all the time and aren’t usually a big deal. However, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a program that replicated the DC Metro system worse than Blacklist. The trains and stations look nothing like the real thing, and there’s no “Farragut East” stop. Blacklist gets the Woodley Park and Dupont Circle stations right and correctly puts them on the Red Line, so it’s perplexing that they’d make up “Farragut East”. (I understand the trains/stations look wrong because they don’t shoot much in DC.)

General Ludd (No. 109): “Red demands a deal from Cooper (Harry Lennix) before he’ll agree to stop an anonymous anti-capitalist terrorist network’s next deadly attack. Liz’s dad’s failing health reveals secrets in her past.” The issues with Liz’s past stay elusive here; they give us hints to Red’s interest in her but no more than that. How well they’ll pay off in the future will remain to be seen, but for right now, “Ludd” doesn’t manage to balance its topics well. It doesn’t focus enough on the main plot for it to thrive, which leaves the material connected to Liz also lackluster. I like the way the show sets up different subjects but the show itself feels a little flat.

Anslo Garrick (No. 16) Part 1: “A fearless hit man mounts a brutal attack on the FBI’s black site to settle an old score with Red.” When I cover two-part shows, I save my judgment until the finale. So skip ahead!

Anslo Garrick (No. 16) Part 2: “After Red is kidnapped, Liz’s search reveals the existence of a mole whose leaks threaten to bring down the task force. Liz’s questions about her past put Tom back in the spotlight.” Time for a complaint: not every dialogue shot requires a camera to spin around the participants. That trick from the Michael Bay playbook gets old fast and pops up way too often throughout the series.

As for “Garrick”, one might expect the series’ first two-part episode to span many settings and domains. Instead, it goes more for a Die Hard vibe and sticks closely to confined settings through much of its running time. That creates an interesting vibe, and the show manages some valuable character developments as it moves.

The Good Samaritan (No. 106): “As the hunt for the mole inside the FBI targets the Blacklist team, Liz uncovers a surprising connection between a serial killer and his victims. Red methodically tracks down those involved in the attempt on his life.” I like the split nature of “Samaritan”, as it follows two stories in a balanced manner. However, the serial killer element feels a bit too “TV movie” for me – a gory TV movie, granted, but still one that can seem cheesy. The Red side works better and adds some enjoyable scenes.

The Alchemist (No. 101): “Liz pursues a deranged scientist who’s helped dozens of criminals escape by engineering and killing their genetic doubles. Red enlists activist whistle-blowers in his search for the mole.” Without much emphasis on the series’ overall arc, “Alchemist” focuses more on its title tale than we’ve seen in a while, and that works well. The story manages some interesting elements and keeps us interested. Throw in useful subplot developments and this turns into a solid show.

The Cyprus Agency (No. 64: “As Liz heads up an investigation that exposes an adoption agency’s shocking secret, Red pursues the FBI mole, identifying a surprising new suspect.” Given the Tom/Liz baby thread running through the year, this episode’s narrative seems awfully on the nose. Indeed, I get the feeling the story exists solely to motivate developments between Liz and Tom. Some interesting moments still evolve but this becomes a below-average show.

Madeline Pratt (No. 73): “Plans for Liz to steal an ancient statue rumored to contain some valuable espionage data pit Red against a respected businesswoman and former partner in crime.” In an unusual move, “Pratt” avoids the series’ standard bloodshed. Sure, we get a few deaths – ho-hum! – but not nearly the level of gore we normally find.

That’s a nice twist, as is the introduction of Madeline, a character who proves a fine match for Red. Their interaction becomes enjoyable and allows this to turn into a distinctive, almost light-hearted episode.

The Judge (No. 57): “Liz searches for a crusader who exacts justice for wrongful convictions, exposing a coerced confession that puts Cooper in her crosshairs. Red closes in on a link between Tom and the attack on the unit’s black site.” Despite a decent premise and a good guest star, “Judge” seems lackluster. It doesn’t turn into a bad episode, but it limps along and never quite goes where it needs to go.

Mako Tanida (No. 83): “A revenge killing spree targets Ressler and exposes an FBI agent’s link to a Yakuza gangster’s criminal empire. As Red closes in, Jolene presses Tom for more information about Liz.” “Tanida” gives us some interesting threads but seems erratic due to a few of those – mainly related to boring old Tom. No matter what the show does to try to make him interesting, Tom remains a dud. I like the additional growth given to Ressler, though.

Ivan (No. 88): “A teenager hacker posing as a Blacklist cyberterrorist threatens to bring Washington DC to a halt. The investigation into Jolene’s disappearance brings Liz closer to uncovering the secret that Tom has been hiding.” With a dull “villain” at its heart, “Ivan” doesn’t go much of anywhere. Add to that the relentless blandness that is Tom and this episode falls flat.

Milton Bobbit (No. 135): “As Red identifies a deranged assassin who convinces terminally ill people to kill for him, Liz demands that he cooperate with her investigation into Tom.” One good thing about the intensification of the Tom thread: I’m hopeful he’ll be dead soon and won’t have to see his smarmy, stubbly face again. The Bobbitt thread works pretty well, and that helps make this a fairly effective show.

The Pavlovich Brothers (No. 119-122): “As the FBI pursues a Serbian extraction team hired to abduct a dissident scientist with valuable knowledge of a Chinese germ warfare project, Liz closes in on the truth about Tom.” “Brothers” gets some points due to its use of Red. As the Liz/Tom story deepened, it felt like the show kind of forgot its star, so it’s good to see him take a more active role once again. The show still has its slow spots, but it works well for the most part.

The Kingmaker (No. 42): “As she’s pressed into service to find the Kingmaker – the man behind the rise of some of the world’s most powerful politicians – Liz uncovers the truth about the role played by Red in her father’s death.” With little time left in the season, matters heat up pretty well here, as the various narrative threads accelerate toward their conclusion. The “Kingmaker” story itself also proves to be pretty good, so this winds up as a satisfying show.

Berlin (No. 8)+: “The threatened outbreak of a deadly virus exposes a devious blackmail scheme aimed at killing Red and devised by the mysterious individual who is manipulating Tom.” As usual, I’ll skip comments about this two-parter until we get to its finale.

Berlin: Conclusion: “As clues from the wreckage of a hijacked prison transport launch the FBI into an all-out pursuit of the Blacklist’s Berlin, Liz’s looks to Red for the truth about her late father." S1 of Blacklist comes to an exciting conclusion across this action-packed two-part show. That said, no one should expect much in terms of narrative resolution here, though.

A few threads tie up, but not in a manner that wraps up anything in a neat/tidy manner. If anything, “Berlin” opens up more potential story intrigue for Season 2. It’s a disappointment that the series leaves us hanging to such a degree, but “Berlin” still turns into a good show and keeps us primed for more.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus C+

The Blacklist appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though not great, the image was mostly fine given the limitations of SD-DVD.

Sharpness varied a bit. Much of the movie came across as reasonably defined and concise, but a few exceptions occurred, as the film occasionally looked somewhat soft and tentative. No jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge haloes remained absent. No problems with source flaws caused distractions, as the movie remained free from defects.

With a subdued palette at work, not many colors cropped up in Blacklist. Within those parameters, the colors were decent. Blacks remained acceptably dense, and shadows were clear and smooth. This was a “B” presentation.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Blacklist, it worked pretty well. While the soundfield didn’t go nuts throughout the whole series, it kicked into action well when it mattered. During quieter scenes, the mix boasted good environmental material, and more active sequences delivered fine immersion and punch. The latter provided the muscle that we expected and used the five speakers in an involving manner.

Overall, audio quality appeared good. Speech came across as distinct and well represented. Music presented good dynamics via the score; the music was tight and full. Effects came across as accurate and firm, with clean highs and deep bass. The soundtrack fell short of greatness, but it mostly served the series well.

Three episodes bring us audio commentaries. We get these for “Pilot”, “Anslo Garrick Part 1” and Berlin: Conclusion”. For each, we find running, screen-specific chats from creator/writer/executive producer Jon Bokenkamp, writer/executive producer John Eisendrath and writer/director/executive producer Joe Carnahan. They discuss story/character areas, cast and performances, music, sets and locations, stunts and effects, and various challenges.

The three commentaries prove to be useful as a whole, though they vary in terms of quality. “Pilot” provides the least interesting of the bunch; while it comes with some good material, it suffers from too much praise. The other two chats seem more balanced and deliver stronger experiences.

Featurettes called Beyond The Blacklist accompany all 22 episodes. These fill a total of one hour, 40 minutes, and 53 seconds of material. Across these, we hear from Eisendrath, Bokenkamp, writers/executive producers Wendy West and John Zinman, writers Amanda Kate Shuman and Brandon Sonnier, writer/consulting producer Lukas Reiter, writer/executive producer Patrick Massett, and actors James Spader, Harry Lennix, Megan Boone, Diego Klattenhoff, Parminder Nagra, Ryan Eggold and Isabella Rossellini. The programs look at inspirations and influences, story/character areas, and cast/performances.

The “Beyond” featurettes originally aired on NBC.com and they consistently follow a promotional bent. We do get minor insights along the way, but these remain insubstantial. There’s not a whole lot of meat to these pieces, so don’t expect much from them.

The Insider: Behind the Scenes of Season 1 lasts 14 minutes and provides comments from Spader, Lennix, Klattenhoff, Boone, Bokenkamp, Eisendrath, Carnahan, Zinman, Eggold, Shuman, Sonnier and writer Brandon Margolis. The show discusses cast and performances, story and character topics and efforts at realism. “Behind” offers a little more substance than “Beyond” but not much, so expect another shallow program.

While it comes with ups and downs, Season One of The Blacklist usually provides a good take on the crime drama genre. It mixes an interesting narrative theme as well as individual stories with action and excitement. The DVDs deliver positive picture and audio as well as a smattering of supplements. This becomes an enjoyable collection of shows.

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