The Blacklist: The Complete First Season

The Blacklist: The Complete First Season (2014)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: James Spader, Megan Boone, Diego Klattenhoff, Harry Lennix, Ryan Eggold
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurettes, Rogues' Gallery, Character Dossiers

The overall quality of television shows has definitely improved over the past few years and with that in mind, it is always exciting to see the beginning of a new broadcast season and the new shows it produces. Whether they survive is a different question entirely, but with “The Blacklist” it appears as if NBC has tapped into something people like. I was therefore eager to check out the Blu-Ray set that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has prepared for the show’s first season.

The show begins with Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader), one of the FBI’s Most Wanted men, surrendering himself to the Bureau. A former government agent himself, Reddington turned into a criminal mastermind, dealing mostly in information and government secrets. No stranger to extortion, manhandling and murder himself, Reddington is not only dangerous but also very calculating, so instantly the question arises, why he would give himself up?

According to him, he wants to cooperate with the FBI in exchange for immunity. Over the many years of his underground dealings he has rigorously mapped out the criminal key players who control the world from behind the scenes. The criminals no one’s ever heard of. The overlords of crime, and he has assembled their names in a blacklist. Willing to give up the names and whereabouts of these criminal overlords in exchange for the FBI meeting his demands, Reddington begins to dish out some of the highest profile and most dangerous men in the world one by one. But for some reason, it appears as if he’s always one step ahead of anyone else. What is his real agenda?

“The Blacklist” has quickly become a fan favorite and has incredible review ratings, but I have to admit that I do not entirely share that sentiment. Every episode features at least one groan-inducing moment or setup that almost completely ruins the show for me. Illogical and utterly predictable, the show is pretentious in the sense that it creates the illusion of offering plot twists where there really are none. They are merely the effects caused by the fumbling and inept main characters, who fumble through the plot in a completely predictable fashion, as they stumble through paperchases set up by Reddington himself. No one in the show ever stops to question why things turn out so conveniently predictable, no one sees the red herrings even if they stare them right in the face, sticking out like a sore thumb. They are constantly warned off by Reddington, decide to ignore their informant’s warnings in favor of sticking to their established and predictable protocols, and even when things go south, they fail to react, seeing the events as circumstantial or coincidental. To top it off, the FBI gives Reddington completely free reign in the show, lets him continue to go about his dirty line of business without as much as keeping an eye on him, reality be damned. To me, “The Blacklist” has all the makings of a bad show, and yet, I kept watching it because I found the premises interesting.

James Spader plays a major part in this appeal. He’s always been comfortable with playing the bad guys, but back in the 80s he always played them with some boyish charm that could have you fooled. In “The Blacklist” he is playing a real heavy hitter. Bad to the bone, he is ruthless, disgustingly self-centered and aloof, and most of all extremely calculating. Everything else in the series becomes a sideshow. Characters are forgettable for the most part and that strange mystery going on between Lizzy and her husband does not really have enough momentum or mystery to properly the story forward. It is all about Reddington, and not surprisingly the season’s strongest episodes is the mid-season two-parter Anslo Garrick, because for once, Reddington is out of his element, lost control of the machine and has to truly fight for his life, instead of orchestrating all the events and people around him. The episode is a breeze of fresh air in a show that is otherwise following the same template over and again.

Arriving on five Blu-Ray discs, the presentation of the show on this release is meticulous. The transfer is absolutely clean and doesn’t exhibit any flaws or blemishes. It offers an incredible level of detail, giving it a truly edgy look that is almost stylized and hyper-realistic at times. Colors are vibrant and rich, without bleeding. The transfer has solid black levels that help render perfect shadows without losing detail while giving the image visual depth at the same time.

The audio on the release is presented as a DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track that is notably aggressive. With an active surround field that makes good and constant use of the surround channels, the track also has a solid bass extension to drive home the action scenes with more explosive power. Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable, adding further to the balanced experience of the overall presentation.

The release also includes a number of bonus materials, such as commentary tracks on selected episodes, including the pilot and the first Anslo Garrick episode.

Every episode also comes with its dedicated “Beyond the Blacklist” feature, which offers up additional background information.

“The Insider” and “Inception” are both making-of and production featurettes that take a closer look behind the scenes of the show, the characters and the storyline.

A “Rogues’ Gallery” is also included, as well as Character Dossiers on the show’s key characters.

If you turn off your brain and watch “The Blacklist” purely for the excitement factor, it is an entertaining romp. Just don’t question its logic or the behavior of the charcaters in it or the illusion will fall apart very quickly. Despite its seemingly serious appearance, take it for what it is, a television production that aims to entertain, not to comment, challenge or provoke thoughts.