Forget for a moment that The Player is a drama about a number of rich individuals who gamble on the potential outcomes of crime for fun. Forget that an underground organization with sophisticated intelligence is totally convenient or that putting dangerous crimes on the shoulders of one sophisticated individual is absolutely loony. If you can get past the outlandishness of the premise, you’ll probably like NBC’s new drama The Player. A lot.
Channeling The Transporter, or nearly any other action film that’s light on plot but heavy on action, The Player picks up during a tense moment and doesn’t let down on the thrills for more than a few moments in the pilot. After learning early on that the former “player” in a high stakes gambling game has been beaten by a foe, we meet Alex Kane (Philip Winchester), a Las Vegas security expert who is being eyed to take over. Kane ends up getting involved in a criminal ring that leads to a kidnapping and the death of his wife, Ginny (Cara Buono). His grief is a good enough reason (and a convenient enough plot device) to play the game and try to find Ginny’s killers, but it takes a central mystery to really get Kane to invest in the high-stakes game.
While the pilot for The Player is a quickly-paced story, what really makes the program work is the characters. Not even the player himself, so much, mind you, although Strike Back’s Winchester has already proven he has the chops to play a never-tiring action hero like Alex Kane. But Snipes’ Mr. Johnson is a true weirdo in the best sense, going from the clipped “pit boss” to an unhinged FBI consultant when snagging Kane from the clutches of the police, and I can’t wait to see that come out more in the coming weeks. Charity Wakefield’s Cassandra King also has a little sparkle to her step, and although she’s been little more than a brazen information helper to Kane thus far, the end of the pilot hints that she may be the key to a big secret regarding Kane’s (ex)wife, and she even has secrets of her own.
Thanks to that aforementioned quick pace, the introduction to the overarching premise and the kidnapping at the forefront of Kane’s first foray into the world of high stakes gambling all goes by in a blur. If you are watching with a critic’s mentality, this will leave a lot of questions related to the central premise. Obviously, this is going to be the sort of show that requires a suspension of belief in terms of plotting, but hopefully, the identity and purpose of the gambling ring and its ability to put a “player” onto a crime will be further explained in the coming weeks. (Then again, maybe it’s better if it doesn’t get too complex.) Having only seen the first episode, it’s still early for a lot of these questions to be answered. And even if that never happens, John Rogers and John Fox’s new show should still offer a lot of well-executed, fun action moving forward.
Honestly, if we are taking every network and streaming service into account, there’s more thoughtful programming elsewhere on television and even smarter action shows—think Cinemax’s Banshee. Regardless, for the 10 p.m. slot on Thursdays following the action-heavy The Blacklist and Heroes Reborn, the energetic new drama should provide just the escapism that people need toward the end of the workweek. NBC is certainly betting on it.
The Player comes from executive producers John Roger, John Fox, John Zinman and Patrick Massett. It’s airing as part of NBC’s new drama-heavy lineup on Thursday nights at 10 p.m. ET. You can find out when the rest of fall TV is returning with our fall TV premiere schedule