January 12, 2013



BANSHEE:  Friday 10PM on Cinemax

Alan Ball’s name is the one most often thrown about in connection with the new Cinemax series BANSHEE, and that’s understandable, what with him being the creator of True Blood and all.  But Ball is just an Executive Producer on Banshee; the show was actually created by the novelists Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler.  Tropper almost exclusively writes domestic dramedies like How To Talk To A Widower and This Is Where I Leave You, about middle-aged guys who are forced into contact with their relatives and old friends (especially girlfriends) and have to re-evaluate the mess they’ve made of their lives.  Part of the fun of Banshee is that it turns out those stories can be quite flexible, and on one level the series is sort of like the Jerry Bruckheimer/Bruce Willis version of that tale.

It takes quite a bit of dovetailing contrivance in the pilot (written by Tropper and Schickler, and directed by the very experienced Greg Yaitanes) to get there, so be patient.  We start with a Convict With No Name (played by New Zealand actor Antony Starr, with a serviceable American accent), released from jail after serving 15 years for the robbery he committed with his safecracker girlfriend Anna (Ivana Milisevic), a heist of $10M in diamonds from the menacingly facetiously named–know your Tarantino, folks!–Mr. Rabbit (Ben Cross).   Within minutes after his prison exit (enough time, though, for some hot sex with a waitress), just after he’s obtained Anna’s new address from his drag-queen/hairdresser/computer genius old buddy, Rabbit’s men are pursuing No Name through the streets of New York for a showdown that includes an overturned, skidding bus.  He gets away and heads to the small Pennsylvania town of Banshee, in picturesque Pennsylvania Dutch country–where he discovers that Anna is now Carrie Hopewell, married to the local District Attorney (who has no idea of her past) and with 2 kids, one of whom is a little too old to be the DA’s.

Now, as it happens, Banshee is expecting a new sheriff in from Oregon, a man who conveniently enough was hired by the Mayor who just died of cancer, and whom the new Mayor (and everyone else in town) has never met.  That sheriff, by the name of Lucas Hood, stops in for lunch on his way into Banshee at the same bar where Our Hero is having a drink on his way out.  A shared confrontation with a couple of nogoodniks later, there are a trio of corpses on the floor, and one of them is Lucas Hood.  Which gives Our Hero an idea…  And so, since no one in Banshee except the dead former Mayor and the amiable bar owner Sugar Bates (Frankie Faison) know what the real Hood looks like, and drag queen/hairdresser buddy can give him a new ID and wipe the real Lucas Hood off the internet, Our Guy takes on his identity, which gives him an excuse to stay in town and keep an eye on Carrie (who claims she was robbed of the diamonds herself when she tried to fence them, and who also fantasizes about her old beau while having sex with her new husband), as well as his presumptive daughter.

Of course, even though “Lucas” had taken on the sheriff’s identity as a cover, he’s not even in his new uniform and badge before he starts seriously cleaning up the town.  In Banshee, that means going up against the men who work for Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomson), a ruthless hood but also the protective son of an Amish father (Kai shows his sentimental side when he has one of his prostitutes wear an Amish bonnet while performing oral sex).  Meanwhile, Mr. Rabbit is tracking the newly-christened Lucas and Carrie down.

Banshee‘s tone couldn’t be more different from Cinemax’s last original effort, the British/American Hunted.  That was a dark, complicated tale where everyone was tangling everybody else in half-explained spy conspiracies, while Banshee is more like a modern-day western, with morally ambiguous but ultimately reliable good guys and psychopathic villains, plus plenty of bodies in between who are there to be seduced (probably the hot, tough young officer on the new sheriff’s force, to name one) or killed (all of Kai’s and Rabbit’s minions, plus criminals-of-the-week).   Lucas will also, like a Tropper hero, have ample chance to examine his choices and try to re-make his life for the better while he establishes relationships with his ex and daughter.  It seems as though a little of Mr. Rabbit (he’s the kind of villain who plays simultaneous chess games without looking, inevitably winning them all) and his dullard hit men will go very far, but Kai is a much more promising antagonist, and in the pilot, at least, the action sequences were impressively over the top.

Banshee seems like fine Friday night paycable entertainment, just smart enough to enjoy its own stupidity.  It’s already more fun than Gangster Squad, and a whole month of Cinemax costs as much as a movie ticket, so there’s that in its favor already.

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."