You’re not mistaken – this genre-bending thriller of a show does air on CBS. It is far from a procedural, which is usually a stipulation for what makes a CBS show. That, and a cast with an age median of 50 plus. Just its premise alone makes Hostages an utterly un-CBS show.
A surgeon, Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette), and her family are taken hostage by a group of mercenaries led by Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott), a rogue FBI agent, who tells Ellen she must let the President of the United States die on her operating table the next day.
Collette and McDermott are superb actors, who have put in enough hours on television that you should feel confident following them anywhere. But here, they’re a bit overtaken by the soapy elements to their characters and the story at large. It’s hard watching Collette try not to let the moment overtake her acting, as she screams when a mercenary pistol-whips her husband. Ditto for McDermott, when he visits his wife, who’s undergoing chemotherapy, and promises her things will return to the way they were.
What works for Hostages is how it tries to blend the family drama with the political thriller. It’s eerie, but fascinating, to see the domestic elements at play as they become tangled with the political ones. When Duncan (McDermott) agrees to help Ellen’s teenage daughter hide a secret because he has a rule about not “cleaning up” or helping the family, it’s interesting.
Ditto for the contrived cheating husband subplot (he’s played here by Tate Donovan) whose secret will no doubt come to light, but whether it’s in the favor of the hostages, or in the favor of the mercenaries, is the question.
The pilot wastes no time laying on the reveals, or pushing the story forward – Ellen decides to fight against her captors by the end of the episode. We learn enough secrets about each of the family members to guarantee quite a few turns in the story for a few episodes. The story will flow quickly, there’s no doubt about that – what’s in question is whether it’ll keep becoming more and more soapy, or more grounded in reality. This is what probably will make or break the show.
But just as the soapy elements are tough to handle, the unexpected twists are also enough to save their characters and the story. This show will no doubt hinge, as of right now, on Ellen’s attempts to stand up to the people who have taken her hostage. It’s hard to see what kind of show this would turn out to be in the long run, but these days, when shows are being packaged as anthologies, or “limited event” series, it’s not worth wondering where we’ll go in the long-term.
As of now, Hostages is trying to be a smart thriller that touches upon the themes of family and national security – so we should just go along for the ride, guns to our heads or not.
Written by: Josh Feldman