‘Game of Silence’ Review: A Brutal But Often Gripping Search for Justice

“Game of Silence” revolves around four survivors of unspeakable things

If you missed out on Tuesday night’s sneak preview of NBC’s new series “Game of Silence” because you believed it to be another terribly named reality show, you’d be forgiven. Poor title choice aside, the reality showcased in the incoming drama is much more horrifying than anything a non-scripted series could provide. It’s worth watching when it moves to its regular time slot tonight.

Based on a Turkish series that was inspired by the Brad Pitt film “Sleepers,” “Game of Silence” revolves around four childhood friends whose innocent antics landed them nine months in a juvenile detention center where terrible, unspeakable things happened. The show flashes between those awful months and the present day, where leader Jackson (David Lyons) has moved on with a law degree and a fiancée (Claire van der Boom) who knows nothing about what he suffered from in his past.

It doesn’t take long before he’s confronted with it head on, however, as former friends Gil (Michael Raymond-James) and Shawn (Larenz Tate) solicit his help for their fourth friend Boots (Derek Phillips), who has run into the ex-inmates who used to torture them.

The brutal scene that follows is just one of many presented in the pilot, which includes horrific images of rape, caged fighting and the overall loss of innocence, building on a midseason trend of young boys in peril (“American Crime,” “The Family”). It’s a hard hour to swallow with nothing light about it, as the former friends decide to band together once again at the end in order to take down those responsible for their damaged lives. If you’re expecting any moments of comedic relief or a reprise from the overall awfulness, this won’t be the series for you.

Although there’s nothing new about the overall plot (see the aforementioned “Sleepers” or even Stephen King‘s “It,”) the story is gripping enough to keep viewers watching, hopeful that the men will get justice for the awful things that went down in the prison. Unfortunately, the story quickly grows more complex, as it is discovered the former Warden (Conor O’Farrell) is now seeking higher office, funded by drug money that some of his own ex-inmates are now in charge of sourcing and securing.

The result is a band of cartoonish bad guys at best, whose ambitions for greater things detract from the more intriguing story of a broken down system and those who suffer from it. Rather than explore that territory in depth, the series quickly turns into a prolonged mystery in which all the characters slowly unveil their own secrets, which can become a source of frustration for the already savvy audience.

The series would have perhaps been better served as a true character study allowing for the likes of Raymond-James and Bre Blair’s Jessie — the female childhood friend who inspired the original chain of events — to shine through. As it is these actors elevate the often clichéd script (which often breaks writing’s number one rule of “show, don’t tell) as best they can, often saving integral scenes in the process.

As a lead, Lyons has his moments too, although the Houston backdrop doesn’t fare well with his hidden Melbourne accent. In fact if it weren’t for the many references to Houston as a supposed character of the show, viewers would probably forget of its existence all together.

For a midseason entry, this one may be hard to snare viewers looking for some lighter, summer fare. But with a limited run of episodes and a closed premise, there is a definitive feeling that for those who do stick with it, justice may be served in the end. But with subject matter this heavy, it’s hard to predict if there can ever be a true winner in the end.

“Game of Silence” officially premiers Thursday on NBC.