As the recent passing of Mission: Impossible star Peter Graves reminds us, the mid-’60s were surely the heyday of adventure fiction on television. In addition to MI, there were numerous other TV series devoted to action and adventure in the decade–fondly remembered shows such as The Man from UNCLE, T.H.E Cat, It Takes a Thief, The Wild, Wild West, The Fugitive, The Avengers, The Saint, The Prisoner, Secret Agent (aka Danger Man), Amos Burke: Secret Agent, Honey West, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and others. Their characters’ combination of optimism and determination makes them still refreshing and enjoyable today.
Various TV networks occasionally try their hand at reviving this tradition, and the time is probably ripe for it given the ability of CGI effects which cut the costs of filming action scenes. The new Fox show Human Target (Wednesdays, 8 p.m. EDT) is one of the best attempts thus far.
Based on a DC comics character, the show chronicles the adventures of Christopher Chance (Mark Valley), a professional short-term bodyguard who protects people from specific threats. Chance looks to be in his mid to late thirties and is very smart, experienced, resourceful, courageous, and skilled at all sorts of combat. He is also very personable and sympathetic toward others.
He’s even sympathetic to the villains who commit the crimes. In episode 2, “Rewind,” for example, he offers a job and a new life to a woman who has helped arrange the abduction of a computer software developer. His concern for characters’ personal redemption adds to the interest of the series beyond the spectacular, suspenseful action elements.
In sum, in his skills and personal character, Chance is about as close to perfect as people get. However, the narratives also make it clear that he has done something highly reprehensible in his past for which he is striving hard to make up. Even that, however, represents an appealing characteristic: he’s clearly not in it for the money or the thrills. Instead, it’s quite evident that Chance really wants to use his unique skills in ways that help people in distress.
Thus, although the show does heed the contemporary rule of giving every good character a dark side, its emphasis on Chance’s habitual benevolence is quite refreshing.
Chance’s desire to renounce his shady past and find and develop the basic goodness within him lends the character complexity, as does his bantering relationships with his two coworkers, Winston and Guerrero. Square-jawed Mark Valley, a West Point grad, does a good job of making the character convincing: he looks the part and his easy-going, jokey personality keeps the viewer from thinking too deeply about the incredible situations and astonishingly inventive and implausible action sequences.
The jobs Chance takes on typically end up leading to some potential catastrophe that threatens to kill not only the intended target but also numerous innocents. Preventing these disasters requires Chance to show great ingenuity and bravery, and it also calls on a serious talent for improvisation.
The dramatic situations Chance and his charges get into–a runaway bullet train, a passenger jet disabled in mid-air, a monestary about to be blown up, etc.–are so dire and spectacular as to be risible to anyone whose critical faculties are functioning, but the stories move along rapidly and enjoyably enough to avert that particular disaster. They’re good fun and provide occasions for real moral choices by both Chance and others, including the villains.
Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley are excellent as Chance’s boss (Winston) and computer expert colleague (Guerrero). Winston serves as business manager and nominal team leader, and also as the Cassandra character, warning Chance when he fears the latter is risking life, limb, or profitability. McBride’s formidable physical presence makes his worried nature that much more amusing.
Guerrero, played superbly by Haley (Watchmen), is the truly reckless one in the team, and is the most openly contemptuous of authority and the government. He’s an interesting character, sort of a hacker-style libertarian with a refreshingly cynical, amusingly politically incorrect attitude. He’s the type of person you want on your side even though you can’t really manage him and aren’t sure what his real agenda is. He’s that brilliant.
In all, Human Target does an excellent job of recapturing that mid-’60s adventure spirit, with the same optimism, can-do attitude, and sympathy for the underdog that characterized those shows. If you enjoy 1960s-style action-adventures, you’ll get a kick out of Human Target. If you don’t enjoy this sort of thing, evidently you’re in need of a rescue yourself.