If every television series pilot is a gamble, the producers of “The Player” should fold. Though they try to stack the deck with story and character elements that are tried and true audience pleasers, the show is is too nonsensical for the audience to stay in the game with it.
Among the cliches trotted out are the conflicted, brilliant leading man who is trying to do good for the woman he loves. Another is a possibly nefarious (OK, definitely nefarious) secret society that hides in the shadows, pulling all the strings and levers.
In addition to its hoary elements, the show boasts a premise that is hard to digest. The super rich, bored with gambling their money on mundane corporations and oil prices, instead place bets on crimes like kidnappings and murders. Using better data than the MI6 can collect, the secret society can predict when crime will occur — just like the pre-cogs of “Minority Report.” They bet on whether a crime will be carried out or if the titular Player, Alex Kane (Philip Winchester) — an ex-FBI agent — can thwart them.
In this elaborate game, set in Las Vegas, Wesley Snipes — doing his first series television work in more than 20 years — is Pit Boss Mr. Johnson and Charity Wakefield is Dealer Cassandra King, a Girl Friday type supplying the Player with all of the relevant information and tools he needs to get the bad guy. But the gaps in logic are hard to rectify: Doesn’t all this advanced intelligence stack the odds too far in the favor of The Player? What kind of rich gambler would bet against a super intelligent agent with a crack team? Doesn’t that eliminate the risk and “fun” of betting on violent crime?
In the pilot episode we’re introduced to this game just as Kane is being recruited to be the next Player. He learns about the society during a chaotic evening in which a serious crime is committed against his family. It’s a safe bet we’ll find out that the secret society instigated it. What finally tips Kane off as to where he should find this group? A strategically placed playing card!
In an era when so many television dramas burn through plot at Shonda Rhimes speed, it’s a fatal mistake to underestimate your audience, letting them get too many steps ahead of the characters. Though it has some slick car chases, “The Player” lacks the wit, ingenuity and originality to inspire curiosity about what’s going to happen next.