Small town. Big secrets.
I’ve been at this since 2003 and have reviewed over 2,500 releases. I’ve tried to be measured and fair, cautious to avoid hyperbole and genuinely interested in maintaining a reputation for equity and critical approach.
Cool? Okay, now I’m about to give a Cinemax original series a perfect score.
The prison gates open and out walks the convict. It’s been fifteen years in lock-up and now, finally, freedom is his. But where to? He is a hunted man, wanted by a ruthless gangster, ensuring that nowhere is safe, especially a central hub like New York City, which immediately erupts in a blaze of gunfire and rolling buses. Fleeing, the man ends up in a bar in the middle of Banshee, a small town in Pennsylvania. A series of violent circumstances presents the man with the opportunity to assume a new identity and start over. And so Lucas Hood (Antony Starr) is born, the new sheriff of a town that is teeming with darkness and danger.
I’m not being contrarian or edgy or click-happy: Banshee is the most entertaining TV series I’ve seen in who knows how long and based on the calculus of “pure enjoyment of the medium,” it earns the triple digits in the box score. But more than that, it’s a genuinely good show, well-acted, well-plotted and filled with memorable characters. The fact that it’s on Cinemax — and all the baggage and expectations that may come with that — should in no way dissuade you from tracking this down.
Fresh off the success of Strike Back (a fun show in its own right, but not in the same league as this one), the little brother network to big brother HBO obviously went looking to boost its portfolio, while also maintaining the, um, nuances, that we’ve come to expect from anything gracing the Cinemax airwaves.
So, yes, there is a hefty amount of violence and foul language and nudity, but I’ll give the writers this much: the debauchery makes sense in the context of the story. As much as I got a kick out of Strike Back, the overwhelming “Cinemaxiness” of the T&A turned into parody. Lucas Hood gets up some boudoir tomfoolery, but it served story and character; in Strike Back, there’d be super-serious plot points and then out of nowhere it’s backstage at the AVN awards.
But Banshee is great not because of its reluctance to be enslaved to a minimum threshold of boob exposure; it’s great because it’s great. Lucas Hood is a brilliant character, an antihero like no other and played perfectly by Starr. A criminal masquerading as a sheriff is storytelling gold and it continually pays off in big ways creatively. Lucas’s brutish, no-rules methods to fight crime often leave his cop underlings staring aghast, but to detail the myriad way in which he breaks rules and throttle bad guys would do a gross disservice to the surprises that await.
Surrounding Hood is a rich motley crew: a boxer-turned-bartender-turned-confidant (Fankie Faison), a cross-dressing hacker (Hoon Lee), the estranged girlfriend (Ivana Milicevic) trying to play mom and wife with a handgun always at the ready and, finally, Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen) the local slaughterhouse-owner/crime-lord, shunned by his Amish family, with eyes on complete domination of Banshee. I know these creations sound contrived, born of the fever dream by a dime-store novelist, but the personnel pulling them off are top-notch, and their unique stories intersect perfectly, culminating in fountains of blood.
Perfect scores for the A/V, with the 1.78:1, 1080p transfer pushing out some razor-sharp visuals. Banshee is a town with everything, from lavish barn raves to bucolic Amish farmlands to gun-metal-gray White supremacy ghettos, and it all looks fantastic. In support, the DTS-HD Master Audio track delivers strong sound, pumping out the multiple action bits and my new favorite series theme with pop.
A nice rundown of extras: audio commentaries for select episodes, featurettes on the bus crash scene from the pilot, a guide to the secrets of Banshee, behind-the-scenes looks at Episodes 7 and 8, the prequel mini-sode series “Banshee Origins,” and deleted scenes. Some interesting interactive bonuses cap out the offering: “Inside the Title Sequence” and “Reveal the Code” (which examine the Easter Egg-filed title sequence) and a comic book on Lucas’s past.
Banshee alone is worth a subscription to Cinemax, and the accompanying furrowed brows you will undoubtedly receive from your wife.
Not guilty. As far as serialized pulp goes, I have seen nothing better.