Human Target is a TV action adventure series on Fox. Last season it was all very "boy’s own." Lots of fight scenes, stunts, mayhem, intrique and things blowing up. For all the special effects it was, I thought, very credible TV with writing, acting, and directing vastly better than the genre normally elicits.
But finally it was too boy’s own, which is to say all that daring-do got in the way of complexity or nuance or anything resembling the way human behave when they are not action heroes.
Clearly, someone at FOX said, "very well, let’s give the USA Networks treatment." And this means taking a page from the resoundingly successful playbook created by Bonnie Hammer and making our male heroes actually interact with and sometimes depend upon the women in their lives. Think of the girlfriend and mother in Burn Notice. The assistant and girl friend in Royal Pains. The FBI jailor and girlfriend in White Collar. And mother, sister, boss, male assistant and boy friend in In Plain Sight. (There are actually two versions of the Hammer strategy. I discuss the official one in McCracken 2009 and the unofficial one in McCracken 2010. See the links below.)
And it came to pass that two women were added to Human Target. One of them was the Mrs. Pucci (pictured) played by Indira Varma (er, also pictured). What a difference Mrs. Pucci makes! In a graceful, elegant way she dismantles the genre, scene in and scene out. Now we really have no idea what’s happening next. And while we are trying to puzzle out the character, we are treated to a great actress treating us to lots of nuance and subtlety.
But hang on! Bill Gorman reported yesterday that the numbers for Human Target were abysmal. Not much better that Under Covers which is now down for cancellation. My suggest we treat this as a new year’s eve resolution: defend Mrs. Pucci from cancellation!
Gorman, Bill. 2010. The Numbers of Human Target. December 23. click here.
McCracken, Grant. 2009. The Hammer Grammar. This Blog Sits At the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. August 31. Click here.
McCracken, Grant. 2010. The secret script at USA Networks (aka the unmeshed male). This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. Feb. 5. click here.
I have to disagree with you, Grant. I really enjoyed season one of Human Target, but season two is about to drop from my viewing rotation after last week’s painfully bad Christmas show. The new female characters aren’t working, as the writers haven’t figured out any credible way in which they add to the show. What you perceive as Mrs. Pucci dismantling the genre, I perceive as a nay-sayer who keeps the characters I like from doing what they do best.
In season one of Human Target, the show knew exactly what it was – as you say, it was a well-done genre action-adventure boy’s show. In the transition to season two with the two new female characters (and a new showrunner, Matt Miller), it lost track of its identity.
I feel like Miller has a shallow view of what made the show work in season one. He gets the surface trappings right (action sequences, quips, Guerrero exuding menace), but doesn’t get the cultural connotations. You’re right that complexity and nuance were not part of the show – brooding anti-heroes are all the rage these days, but this show was a throwback to lighter-hearted fare of the 80s. To take one detail, season one was set to orchestral scores by Bear McCreary, and the original theme song evoked John Williams, whereas in season two, they’ve replaced that with pop song references that clash with that aesthetic of the action-adventure eighties throwback (Indiana Jones never was scored to pop songs).
In season two, it has some of the surface trappings of the original show, but because it has a number of distracting elements like Mrs. Pucci, the show is less than the sum of its strong parts. If they were going to add a female regular, they should have added the FBI agent from season one, who collaborated with Chance twice and had a strong chemistry (and a realistic reason for falling in with the gang).
I feel like Human Target is a good case study of how cultural artifacts of something even as silly as an action-adventure show require all of its elements working in synergy – when you have a completely un-self-conscious boy’s show and graft in a woman character “dismantling the genre”, it doesn’t work from the original genre perspective or as a postmodern recontextualization, so it’s no longer satisfying in any way. Which is why the ratings have tanked, in my opinion.
Eric, excellent observation, thanks! So i guess this show is caught in that death valley between rock-em, sock-em action-adventure AND the more nuanced stuff that cable now does so well. Doing both merely pisses off both parties. Doing one and not the other doesn’t generate enough traffic. (actually, I guess this post puts me on record as saying that I like both, there just aren’t enough of me…or Human Target marketing hasn’t got the word out to this segment)