'Human Target,' a mildly entertaining new television series from Fox that returns later this month, is based on a serviceable Vertigo comic book series of the same name (created by Wolverine originator Len Wein), and is just amusing enough to sit through for 44 minutes. Still, it had me wondering who, exactly, was watching this show week in, week out (and enough to green-light it for an, albeit truncated, second season)? If this thing lasts longer than 'Dollhouse,' I'll be really pissed.
The basic setup of the show is about Christopher Chance (Mark Valley), a mystery man who specializes in "personal security." There was a conceit earlier in the series that he would "blend in" to the client's background, letting the threat reveal itself, and then he'd go in and beat the bad guys. This is almost completely abandoned by the end of the first season, but whatever, the first season of anything is when templates are tried out and then ignored as the quest continues for a suitable format.
Anyway, he's aided by Winston (Chi McBride) and a morally nebulous hacker named Guerro (Jackie Earle Haley) and each week they get into some kind of sticky situation, like a runaway plane or a wartime extraction situation. Each episode begins en medias res, and then will either briefly flicker back to show us why he's in such a precarious predicament, or steamroll ahead, with the audience having to catch up. Everywhere on the special features, the creative principles talk about the desire to make an "action movie each week," which is all well and good, but also sort of boring. If you are, like me, are forced to watch these things in one big gulp, it grows borderline deadening.
Because, really, 'Human Target' isn't all that clever (and, no, hoary action movie "quips" uttered by our hero don't count as clever). One of the more annoying aspects of the show is to partner Chance with a gorgeous girl for almost every episode. She might be the bad guy or the person the bad guys are coming after, but she's always supermodel attractive and always has a flirty relationship with Chance. It was enough that I started wondering if they would rename the show 'Human Target, The Adventures of a Heterosexual Man.' Part of the fun of watching action movies, particularly action movies in the 80s which showed a shocking lack of self consciousness, was their inherent homoeroticism; the ways in which, especially in the buddy cop formula, the two men were the romantic couple and there might have been a woman in there (acting as a "beard"), but it was all about the bonding of the two male characters.
But, really, 'Human Target' isn't interested in subverting anything or exploring any even borderline risqué thematic material. Nope. The series is humorless and mostly dumb (which in the case of the female problem, translates into hard-line misogyny), a cacophonous series of action set pieces that get even more repetitive and ossified as the series runs its course. Compared to something genuinely cutting-edge like the BBC's recent 'Sherlock' revamp, it seems even deader.
The worst is watching actors like McBride and Valley, who both appeared on significantly more fun television series (Valley on 'Fringe' and the underrated 'Keen Eddie;' McBride on 'Pushing Daisies'), tread water here. But the most underutilized must be Jackie Earle Haley, so captivating in things like 'Little Children' and 'Watchmen,' who is the most interesting character by a country mile but often sold short by poor writing. He's a squirly, evil little dude, so why can't they find more interesting things for him to do?
On the "entertainment value" level, 'Human Target' just barely succeeds. If you like junky action slop that they show on basic cable late at night, then you'll probably get a kick out of 'Human Target.' Everyone else is advised to look for thrills elsewhere.
Fun fact: in 1992 the comic book was also translated to television, in the form of a short-lived series that aired on ABC. And guess who played Christopher Chance? Rick "Late Late at Night" Springfield. Why wasn't this on the special features?
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The first season of 'Human Target' (12 episodes – this was a midseason replacement that's coming back, again, at midseason) is spread across two 50GB Blu-ray discs that are both Region-free and BD-Live enabled (but, at the time of this writing, not jazzed up with additional BD-Live features). That is all.
'Human Target's' VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer (1.78:1 aspect ratio) is handsome-enough but not without its serious issues.
First the good: the whole 'action movie of the week' thing has never been given more credence than with these transfers. Seriously – things look sharp, bold, and dynamic. Skin tones are good, detail pops, and even the occasionally cheap-o special effects manage to convey a level of dimensionality that similar big screen efforts are lucky to achieve. If you watched it on television, in standard definition, then these transfers will likely be revelatory. As it stands to someone who had to gobble all of these episodes down in one fully meal, it looks really, really good.
But "really, really good" isn't "great," and here's the rub – in an effort to squeeze so many episodes onto only two discs, the transfers are often riddled with minor (but extremely annoying) technical issues. Artifacts, banding, ringing, they all pop up here. If there was only one issue, then I might not even write about it, but it's fairly persistent and irritating. Not that 'Human Target' is some work of art, but, really, there could have been more done to insure that the image wasn't this glitchy.
According to the holographic jacket, the audio on these discs has been "Enhanced from Broadcast." Not sure, exactly, what that means, since there isn't a helpful description of how things were enhanced. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is fairly solid, if not lossless (Warner Bros, in their infinite wisdom, have deemed it unnecessary to include lossless tracks on all the TV series of theirs I've had to review).
The emphasis of 'Human Target,' both the show and the mix, is on what the Black Eyed Peas would consider the boom, boom, pow. That is – the large scale, sometimes wildly unrealistic (unless zip-lining down a ski lift fits into the realm of probable reality) action sequences that our hero often finds himself in. And in this respect, 'Human Target' shoots straight.
There's more surround support than you would expect (whether or not it's been specifically enhanced to do so, besides that note on the cover art, leaves room for debate), with bullets whizzing by, a runaway bullet train careening past, and an out-of-control airplane jutting towards certain doom. (Amongst other things.) Directionality is good, and the entire thing seems more full-bodied and alive than its broadcast counterpart.
On the more subdued side of things, dialogue sounds clean and crisp no matter how crazily cacophonous the surround events become, and sound effects are rendered with a razor-sharpness that never intrudes. Sure, things would have been better if Warner Bros had sprung for the legit, lossless mix, but all things considered, things sound pretty good indeed. (Maybe we can start a letter writing campaign? And we can ask for a reissue of 'Speed Racer' with lossless sound? Yes please?)
As I've said before, I'm not sure how "enhanced" this mix is, but it probably sounds better than TV, and if it's not lossless, thn it's probably the best we'll get – not that the series particularly needs it.
There is also a Portuguese 2.0 track (which maybe would take care of the whir but would have left me hopelessly confused and probably hungry for some south-of-the-border cuisine) and subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish and Swedish.
All of the extras on these discs also appear on the DVD set, because, well, there aren't that many of them. Keep in mind, as I said before, the discs are BD-Live ready but there hasn't been any additional content put up… yet.
Overall, I found 'Human Target' to be quite dull in its frantic relentlessness. Yes, the whole "action movie of the week" conceit is sort of nifty, and the cast is loaded with appealing actors (the material, quite frankly, seems beneath them) and occasionally neat-o stunts, but nothing can get over the repetitiveness of the action, the misogyny of the "hot girl every week" set-up, or the lack of texture of depth, both in the overarching mystery (what little of that there is) and the characters themselves. The two-disc Blu-ray set, with problematic audio and video (to say the least) and so-so special features, isn't going to sway anyone's opinion. The fact that this thing is being brought back for a second season while outstanding programming like 'Terriers' bites the dust after a handful of episodes is shameful. For fans only.