Hack, the new prime TV drama for CBS is in trouble. They’ve decided to give it some time to take. It’s going to take awhile.
Hack has the advantage of having David Morse as its lead character. Here’s an actor who works the small facial gesture with virtuoso control, every tick and grimace and smile and shrug of unhappiness tied to the scene, and so transparent of the character’s emotional life, that it’s worth the price of admission, and carries the rest of the show.
The damp napkin, the one on which someone sketched out the original vision of the show, is still visible: gritty plus heartwarming, new age hopefulness meets street-slick, mean-street, cynicism. An angel from on high dressed up in low end noir.
The trouble is that the show is obliged to be more new age than noir. Nothing bad can happen here. This is the new age “promise” as this has been inscribed in a number of pop culture productions (e.g., Highway to Heaven, Touched By An Angel). This means that a show that has opened up dramatic opportunities by its inhabitations of the mean streets of Philadelphia and actors of the standing of Morse and Andre Braugher, must confine itself to the happy and the heart warming and the reassurance that, really, the universe is inhabited by forces of goodness.
TV has got a little better at exploring the complexity and contraction of its characters. Dennis Franz is one obvious case in point. Tony Soprano, an another. And this year we have seen a couple of shows (i.e., The Shield) in which the protagonist is obviously flawed. And “noir” was dedicated to this premise, one of the first pop cultural productions to escape the “niceness” trap of mainstream entertainment.
Hack is, finally, a tragic figure, not on the screen but in the script, the captive of a contradiction. The interest of the show comes finally from watching it wrestle with its demons. And this is one of the interesting things about popular culture, that we are engaged as much by what we imagine off screen as we do what’s on.