TV review: Hostages (Pilot episode / E2 “Invisible Leash”)

(image via (c) CBS)


*Minor spoilers ahead*

If any more proof was needed that American TV’s great love affair with re-making successful overseas television in their own image is showing no signs of dimming, it’s CBS’s new political thriller,  Hostages.

Following in the footsteps of State-side versions of shows like Scandinavia’s The Bridge or Israel’s Hatufim  aka Prisoners of War (now Homeland), and yes even Australia’s Wilfred, Hostages is a re-imagining, to use the euphemistic term for the process, of an upcoming Israeli series.

The good news is that for a recreation of sorts, it isn’t all that bad.

While that might sound like I am damning the show, which was developed for US TV by Jeffrey Nachmanoff, with faint praise, it does have enough going for it to warrant seeing out the full run of 15 episodes.

The downside is it is not as compelling as I might have expected, which is odd given its arrestingly intriguing premise.

Dr Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette) is a top notch thoracic surgeon, the rock star of the operating theatres at Maryland College Hospital, who is chosen by the White House to remove a tumour from the President of the United States, Paul Kincaid (James Naughton).

So far, so ego boosting, and as expected Ellen, who comes across as reasonably self-effacing and not all narcissistic, takes it all in her stride, even referring to appearing alongside the President to announce her role in his life-saving procedure as “just a press conference”.

Aw shucks, she’s quite a gal and played beautifully by Toni Collette who is able to bring all manner of light and shade to her characters with almost effortless precision.

Sure Ellen’s a mite estranged from her family – they treat her early arrival home to cook dinner much like a hiker in the Californian woods might greet a sighting of the Sasquatch – but they seem to love her even so.

Well to a point.


Ellen almost immediately regretted her choice for family togetherness night (image via (c) CBS)


Hubby Brian (Tate Donovan), who it turns out is not being quite the faithful family man he likes to portray, doesn’t exactly drop everything to be with her, preferring to finish off coaching a lacrosse team in which his son, Jake (Mateus Ward) plays before heading back to hearth and home.

He says all the right things but is exactly overdosing his wife on the genuine warm and fuzzies.

But, and here’s where things start to get a little silly – OK a lot silly, let’s be honest – he’s not the only one with SECRETS.

Son Jake is secretly dealing weed and in debt to a particularly nasty drug dealer – oh lord why? Isn’t his family rich enough already? – and daughter Morgan (Quinn Shephard), who has a thing for seemingly nice guys who wait in pick up trucks at deserted sports fields, is pregnant.

Both Jake’s and Morgan’s characters, and yes even Brian’s, are nothing out of the box, having been seen a thousand times before in any number of networks dramas before them, and only Ellen comes across in the rather stretched out set up as having any real layers to her.

In the minds of the writers I am sure all these SECRETS (capitalised to keep in line with the heavy handedness of the dramatic set ups), which no doubt extend to family pooch Barkley who has probably shacked up somewhere with the neighbour’s cat, are meant to make the family drama part of the show so compelling we’ll have to watch.

And watch we will no doubt but not because of the family’s soapy travails.


Duncan and Ellen head off for some quality threatening time alone (image via (c) CBS)


No, what makes Hostages worth setting aside an hour a week for is the interplay between Ellen and the nefarious dressed-in-black (but not leather, thank the scriptwriting cliche gods) team, led by FBI Special Agent Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott)  which takes her and her family hostage on the night on the night before the President’s big op.

They’re kinda scary yes with tentacles everywhere but also weirdly sweet at the strangest of times, with one of them even going so far to assure an upset jakes that Barkley, who appears rather dead to begin with, is in fact just drugged.

But make no mistake they mean business but thankfully not in a menacingly camp, Bond villain kind of way.

Carlisle is given all sorts of interesting layers – rock solid husband who is standing by her cancer-stricken wife, devoted dad to Sawyer (or Soy Soy, making her sound like a non-dairy beverage for hipsters) and talented, if idiosyncratic FBI agent – whose motivation for asking Ellen to kill the President during the operation is not made immediately clear.

Nor is it made plain why his associates are trying to get rid of the President although they speak loftily off making the world a better place.

But for who exactly?

What it all means is that we have shades of grey and lots of them – hurrah!


Yep Brian and Ellen are serious as a heart attack … or whatever it is kills the President (image via


Hardly HBO-levels of complexity true, and Hostages does take its own sweet time revving up the politically conspiracy engines – although things pick up a little in “Invisible Leash” when Ellen realises her actions have serious consequences for friends and family alike – but it’s a darn sight better than what most network shows, particularly on straight down the line-loving CBS, dole us to eager viewers.

And it’s this conspiracy, along with the sophisticated characterisations of both Ellen and Duncan, who immediately start playing the cat and mouse power game that will likely underpin the series, and which provides much of the interest in the first couple of episodes that will keep viewer interest going.

Hostages is not exactly a full speed ahead 24-like thriller, which is not entirely a bad thing since Kiefer Sutherland’s star vehicle did tend to the cartoon-ish at times, and I am not entirely comfortable with the sudsy family moments, but it is showing enough signs of constructing an enjoyably taut, if slowly unfurling thriller (each episode is meant to represent 1 day approximately) to be worth keeping an eye on.

My great hope is that CBS, who have professed a keenness to let Hostages get as dark and unpredictable as it wants to be (in marked contrast to many of its dramas), remain true to their word and take the brakes off, letting the series go to all the compellingly interesting places its premise suggests, broadcast network caution be damned!

You have 13 episode left everyone – make ’em count!



And here’s the preview for episode 2 …



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