March 16, 2013



As a series, Cinemax’s BANSHEE has been notable for the sheer knock-down, drag-out-edness of its action scenes.  One episode started with a bungled robbery which led to a chase that must have lasted 10 minutes, and when hero ex-con turned fake-sheriff of Banshee, PA Lucas Hood (Antony Starr) faced down an MMA fighter who was also a vicious rapist, or when Hood’s ex-girlfriend, now living as Carrie Hopewell (Ivana Milicevic), the respectable wife of Banshee’s DA, confronted one of her gangster father Rabbit’s (Ben Cross) chief minions, the battles went on punishingly long, a believable fatigue setting in as the combatants traded bloody blows.  Watching them, you believed those people were in pain.  And after the fights were over, even though the heroes had the super-human powers of recuperation needed to get them to the next episode, they limped and carried scars that didn’t immediately fade away.

Banshee is a throwback, a show that captures the feel of low-budget vintage AIP summer exploitation movies without being a self-conscious “homage” to them as an art form.  Created by two novelists (Jonathan Tropper, who wrote tonight’s season finale, and David Schickler, who collaborated on the story), the show doesn’t trouble itself with too much depth (or coherence at times), but it’s been satisfyingly human-scaled in an era where “action movie” increasingly means CG-driven stunts and ridiculous levels of firepower.  The season finale even featured a nice twist on the genre, as Hood turned out to be the damsel in distress who had to be rescued from Rabbit by badass Carrie and the show’s other rag-tag heroes, their old pal and occasional transvestite Job (Moon Lee), local barkeep Sugar (Frankie Faison), and Hood’s Banshee deputies Brock (Matt Servitto), Emmett (Demetrius Grosse) and Kelly (Trieste Kelly Dunn).  The action was faster than usual but still relatively intimate (there was a brutal garotte vs. broken bottle fight early on); even the set-piece assault on Rabbit’s fortress had more spatial logic under Miguel Sapochnik’s direction than most Hollywood spectacles manage these days.

The finale was largely concerned with the Hood/Carrie/Rabbit showdown, and because the show has been renewed for a second season, that storyline was somewhat disappointingly left open, as even Carrie’s point-blank shooting and exit line “Goodbye, Daddy” weren’t enough to kill Rabbit off.  It also meant that we got less than usual of the show’s local villain, the much more interesting and ambiguous Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen), the banished son of Banshee’s Amish community who’s now the local tycoon and crime boss, and who has a more than slightly creepy relationship with gorgeous niece Rebecca (Lili Simmons) whom he’s taken in and is now mentoring.  (She’s already had some steamy nights with Hood, a relationship Kai has forced Hood to vow will never happen again, and anyone can imagine how well that’s going to work out.)  The brief Kai story in the finale promises more open conflict with the local Indian tribe and its planned casino next season; in addition, there’s more territory in the Hood/Carrie relationship to be plowed, as her husband concluded the season by leaving her after discovering her past, taking both her children (including the daughter who’s secretly Hood’s).  The other major cliffhanger for Season 2 was the discovery of the real and very dead Lucas Hood’s body by the FBI, although as the closing credits rolled, they didn’t yet know who he was.

Banshee is absurd, superficial stuff, and it doesn’t always make sense (occasionally Hood and Sugar made vague plans to rob the casino or something else, but it never went anywhere), but it’s a show that knows what it’s trying to accomplish and gets there without unnecessary fuss or pretensions.  Starr is a genuine action hero who looks comfortable with a gun and a snarl, and Milicevic is a much more convincing version of the Geena Davis character from The Long Kiss Goodnight, a soccer mom who can believably beat the shit out of men twice her size.  It would have been OK for Ben Cross to bite the dust as scenery-chewing, Russian-accented Rabbit (he plays chess, as all supervillains must), but Thomsen brings an impressive amount of shading to Kai.

Banshee‘s ratings haven’t show up in any lists of top Friday cable programming since the premiere drew a bit under 500K total viewers, and even the Cinemax press release announcing its renewal couldn’t find any numbers to boast about, so it’s probably safe to assume that it isn’t setting Nielsen boxes on fire.  But Cinemax, as a pay network, is all about developing the brand, and Banshee (which, in addition to Tropper and Schickler, is produced by True Blood honcho Alan Ball) hits a happy balance between decent reviews and entertaining content that should put it where Cinemax wants to be–well enough, in any case, that we’ll be back in that busy, bloody town next season.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."