The Player Season 1 Episode 3 Review: “L.A. Takedown”

The Player

When I first read the third episode of The Player was titled “L.A. Takedown,” I was sold on the series, no matter how preposterous the premise was, because it appeared to be a direct reference to the Michael Mann movie of the same title (which TV nerds like myself know was originally filmed as an 1989 NBC pilot, then aired as a TV movie, and served as Mann’s inspiration for the 1995 classic film Heat). I mean, who wouldn’t want to see an episode of TV show in the vein of a Michael Mann crime film? “L.A. Takedown” is not that, however; instead, “L.A. Takedown” is just Alex Kane getting shipped off to L.A. for a bit when a sniper starts killing people in the name of cartels – a disappointing turn of events, only slightly enhanced by the increased awesomeness of Cassandra, who is not just anyone’s average dealer.

Forget all the case details The Player shoves into every scene of the episode: studying any of the case details that come out over the course of the episode’s 42 minutes topples the hour over, like a flimsy, white-washed Jenga set (for example: why did the cartel people decide to kill all these people they were wronged by five years later, all within hours of each other? One would think that draws attention). Where “L.A. Takedown” excels is in removing everyone from the lame poker cliches found in The Player‘s Las Vegas home, and put them on the road: this unearths Cassandra the military-trained machine, an entity so intelligent and efficient it begs the question why they’d hire someone else to be The Player, when they could just use Cassandra (I suppose her constantly-changing set of rules in how she can help Alex helps explain this, but it’s still odd). Either way, it’s fun to see her out on the road with Alex, exchanging light barbs and thoroughly dominating the episode with her fierce glare.

The rest of “L.A. Takedown”? Well, there’s a reason the show’s bordering on the edge of cancellation only three episodes in. The Player wants to have a high concept without ever really engaging in it, teasing conspiracies, unseen global powers, and a star actor (I’m looking at you, Snipes) who wanders around the world with seemingly no allegiance to anything but poker puns and fake smiles. Clearly, Swipes’ Mr. Johnson is interested in Alex’s ex-wife, and the death of the last Player still lingers, but his character remains as vague as the overarching plot, which makes every scene he’s in a serious of frustrating question marks. Until the show tries to define his most basic characteristics, all of his scenes are going to feel tedious. There are important details being parsed out, so one has to pay attention, but the complete lack of context he acts with makes him a thoroughly unreliable character who pulls attention away from both the story at hand, and the more interesting ideas stuck to the show’s generic underbelly (like Alex’s predilection for extreme violence, something I’m still waiting to get into after last week’s stabbing).

Will The Player figure out its formula in time? Currently, it’s racing a pretty uphill battle against the Ratings of Fate, and the obscure nature with which it tries to express its overarching story (and thus, the material that’s going to keep people watching) is working against it. “L.A. Takedown” offers a few promising moments where it might be able to shed some of these early issues. However, its survival right now is not a safe bet (I couldn’t help myself).

Other thoughts/observations:

  • How long does that female FBI agent live for? She’s terrible at lying (“I picked your name off the top of the detective list”), which doesn’t bode well.
  • One day, a computer nerd will beat the crap out of one of these threatening semi-antagonists. The Pretender probably did the best job making its “nerd” characters feel like real people – The Player should take notes from its (now ancient) predecessor.
  • It feels like there’s a lot of hitmen chasing being done on this show already – next week, Alex takes on five of them at once!

[Photo credit: Colleen Hayes/NBC]

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