Anti-heroes are the new hotness. Ever since Tony Soprano took being bad mainstream, most of our serialized dramas have been about bad people – that we like – doing bad things. Every new show that finds its way to basic or premium cable seems to have a bad guy, or gal, leading the way. These aren't just heroes with one or two character flaws. They're outright criminals that we simply can't help but love. Walter White cooks meth and brutally controls his drug empire. Dexter Morgan has been slicing up bodies for eight seasons now. And we can't stop watching. The anti-hero allows us to live vicariously without actually committing any crimes. We'll just sit back and watch it play out.
Which brings me to Cinemax's new show called 'Banshee.' I have to admit that going into it I had absolutely no idea what to expect of it. Judging by the name I had the fleeting thought that I was going to be thrust into yet another paranormal vampire show. Thank goodness that didn't turn out to be true.
After watching Cinemax's other show, 'Strike Back,' I knew what to expect. Since this is not just premium cable, but it's also, well, Cinemax (or as many people lovingly refer to it: Skinemax), the expectations on skin and gore are high. So, the show follows along with Cinemax's edict by throwing in one or two steamy sex scenes before getting back to the story.
So, what's the story? Well, here's where the anti-hero makes his appearance. In the show's first episode we see an unnamed man (Antony Starr) leave prison. He's been there a long time, but we don't know what for. He looks like he has something on his mind. Vengeance? Maybe. It's almost always vengeance, right?
The man is soon chased by some thugs in tailored suits as they shoot up a downtown metropolis. Okay, this guy is in bigger trouble than we thought. We still don't know who he is, where he came from, or why those dapper dudes are chasing him, but hey, it's pretty exciting.
After visiting an old friend to get an ominous address, the man heads for a small town called Banshee. A town where surly rednecks and pious Amish mix together in a powder keg of hostility. Through a convenient plot twist the man soon assumes the identity of a recently deceased lawman named Lucas Hood, who was poised to become Banshee's next Sheriff, but never lived long enough to even drive into town. Since Hood was an outsider no one has seen his face (it also helps that the man's mysterious friend also doubles as a worldclass hacker). Okay, so it takes some suspension of disbelief. What you need to know is the man, now Lucas Hood, has taken control of the Sheriff's office. The town is filled with ruffians none more rough than Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen ), an organized crime kingpin who really loves his steak.
Secrets are soon revealed as Hood, a lifelong criminal, actually tries to be the Sheriff to the best of his abilities. He also spends time trying to win back the loyalty of his criminal accomplice/lover Anastasia (Ivana Mili?evi?) who lives Banshee.
There's a certain earnestness to 'Banshee' that you wouldn't expect from a show on Cinemax. It builds its characters nicely and places them in a truly odd situation. Banshee is run by the criminal element, but it's flanked on all sides by the peacekeeping Amish folk. It's an interesting dynamic to say the least.
With so much good programming on television it's difficult to make time for something else. I know. My list of shows to watch is already bursting at the seams. However, if you find yourself needing another gritty serialized drama with the prerequisite Cinemax bare skin quotient, then 'Banshee' may be for you.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Banshee' actually comes in some pretty neat packaging. It's the same Blu-ray keepcase and slide-in cardboard casing that we've seen before, but the artwork is pretty nifty. Retro and cool. I actually enjoy looking at it. Inside there are four 50GB Blu-ray Discs. There are 10 episodes in the first season. Disc one and four have two episodes each while discs two and three each have three episodes. Even though the show airs on Cinemax this release is taken care of by HBO Home Video. It's labeled as being region free. There is also a digital copy included.
Much of 'Banshee' is extremely cinematic looking. I was actually surprised how much the show looks like an actual movie. There are times where the looks become overly digital and phony (like when Lucas finds himself winding his way through a rave in the second episode), but the rest of the show has some great depth, color, and clarity.
Presented in 1080p, 'Banshee' has a distinct style. There are some really great shots out in the fields of the Amish farmers. A sun sets in the background as seeds and pollen drift through the summer air, catching the light. Close-ups are precise in their detail. Facial features like age lines, pores, freckles, and smile creases are all perfectly visible. There are times that the clarity actually calls attention to some of the more blatant CGI blood and gore, which kind of takes the viewer out of the experience for a few seconds.
Primary colors are bold. Blacks are deep – except in the aforementioned rave scene which looks like it was filmed with entirely different cameras. There aren't any artifacts to report though. Technically it's clean as a whistle.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix provided by HBO has a wonderful ambiance and hits hard when it needs to. 'Banshee' covers a wide range of settings and situations which means that the audio presentation does as well.
'Banshee's pulsating music, whether it be electronica rave music or hard rock, has a real presence. It blasts through the front and rear channels during the rave making you feel like you're right in the middle of the mayhem. Then there are times where the countryside is quite and you can hear the crickets chirping and the birds squawking. It's a very well-rounded audio experience.
Dialogue is always clear, which is nice, because there are plenty of whispered scenes. Directionality is smooth and so are the show's panning shots. There's nothing to complain about here at all. From the deep thudding bass to the nuanced ambiance, HBO has delivered another great audio mix for a TV series.
Boy was I glad that this wasn't another vampire show! After I realized that was the case, 'Banshee' became pretty easy to enjoy. It's surprisingly effective in its storytelling even though it has to take time out for blatantly silly sex scenes which are there because, well, it's Cinemax folks. With some great video and extremely well done audio, 'Banshee' delivers. It's recommended viewing for sure.