Michele Hewitson: Thriller by the numbers

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Dylan McDermott plays a villain who really cares.
Dylan McDermott plays a villain who really cares.

If Hostages (Wednesday nights, 8.30pm, TV1) didn't have the terrific Toni Collette in the lead role, I doubt I'd have made to the end of the pilot. It went on and on, down a series of ridiculously labyrinthine by-ways, all of which led back to that first, ridiculous, choice: a doctor is trapped in a nightmare that involves having to choose between killing the president or having her family killed.

The dialogue, for one thing, is so leaden and predictable that you wonder how the actors manage to recite it without wincing or laughing. There were lines you could finish almost as soon as they started. Lady doc to pregnant teenage daughter (not that mom knows, but we do, which makes it all the more predictable): "Some day when you're a parent, you'll understand what I'm talking about." That was a yawner.

This was a groaner: "Don't think of it as killing the president; think of it as saving your family."

Dr Ellen Sanders is to knock off the president by means of some unidentified and supposedly unidentifiable poison to be administered during routine surgery.

Operating, even routinely, on a president is going to mean heavy-duty security checks so the poison vial is disguised as ... a lipstick. This about the only moment of (unintentional?) humour.

Who knows just what's going on, let alone why. The coolly handsome rogue FBI agent (or is he?) played in a coolly handsome and roguish way by Dylan McDermott is also the chief hostage-taker. He has a sick wife and a kid and like all good bad guys, he loves them both. He knows all of the Sanders' family secrets, or so we are supposed to think, because we are supposed to think we know them all too. Cheating husband, pregnant teenage daughter, drug-dealing teenage son. I imagine there will be more. Just a hunch.

The only death so far came almost at the end of the pilot. I was praying that the husband, a cheating, useless creep, would be knocked off, but pilots so seldom deliver that which you most desire. They'd have nothing to drag you back with for the series if they killed off the creeps too early on.

The death, made to look like a suicide, was of Dr Ellen's best friend and surgery nurse. Ellen failed to persuade her to confess that she had buggered up the president's medicine (a blood thinner, slipped in by Ellen, and then "discovered" by her so the surgery would have to be delayed.)

This was where it all began to get interesting. Who is actually responsible for the death? The hostage-takers, or Ellen? If they manage to keep blurring the lines - causing an uneasy feeling for a viewer of not knowing quite who's in the right, or even what is right - this could be worth sticking with. The telly equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome? Possibly. Would that be fun? We'll have to wait and see. Will Dr Sanders carry the day? Probably. Collette certainly carries the show. Whether she can carry a series is another matter. In the meantime I vote for killing off whoever wrote those lines. That would be the right thing to do, surely.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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