With a busload of kidnapped high school students, a flock of powerful parents and a smattering of high-caliber stars, NBC's "Crisis," which premieres Sunday, seems prepared to do what CBS couldn't with "Hostages" — create a high-octane, character-driven suspense drama that is both familiar (newbie FBI agent up against emotionally charged odds) and unexpected (the point of the abduction is not clear).
Our story opens with something Very Bad happening. In the middle of a field a sweaty and distraught man seems to be disarming security satellites as an FBI agent ("666 Park Avenue's" Rachael Taylor) tries to stop him. So you know, going in, it's that sort of show — lots of tricky laptop action while the fate of the nation hangs in the balance.
As with "Hostages," the president is involved as well as a political vendetta of sorts. But creator Rand Ravich ("Life") has smartly given himself a lot more room to maneuver. On a field trip from their prestigious private school, a group of disparate teenagers, including the president's son, is taken hostage. Only one gets away, through the super-cop effort of Secret Service agent Marcus Finley (Lance Gross), who is having a very bad first day on the job.
Back at command, agent Susie Dunn (Taylor) becomes the FBI's point person, even though her niece, Amber (Halston Fitch), is one of the hostages. But Meg, Amber's mother and Susie's sister, is the head of "an international IT corporation" and played by Gillian Anderson, so concessions must be made. Meg gives Susie entree into the entitled world of Power Parents and the series an emotional central conflict — Meg and Susie do not get along.
The action moves back and forth between the taken (who include a parent played by Dermot Mulroney, so it's no spoiler to say he will be central to the action), the authorities and the parents, who are soon issued separate, strange and very alarming ransom demands.
The kidnappers are many, masked and clearly mean business; the teenagers are frightened, forcing resentments into the open amid the school's rather typical hierarchy. Still, love will no doubt bloom in captivity.
In the first two episodes, the plot turns and turns again, and the motivation for what is clearly a very elaborate crime becomes murky to the point of nonsensical. Fortunately, the motivating force (and the show's tag line) — How far would you go to protect your children? — is easily understood. The captors' demands also give the show a vaguely procedural structure, which allows the larger narratives of love and betrayal to emerge more or less organically.
It's a brilliant idea for a show. The D.C. milieu allows for ramped-up stakes, and everyone loves to bash entitled parents. The kids add an element of social commentary, and Anderson, doing here for the fitted dress what she did for the silk blouse in "The Fall," is reason enough to watch anything.
Fortunately, the rest of the cast is just as good. Taylor and Gross balance just the right amount of competence and bewilderment, while Mulroney emotes the pain of a rejected father. The pilot is all but stolen by Joshua Erenberg, who plays the kid Finley rescues.
But it will be the character reveals and plot twists that will make or break "Crisis." If Ravich can keep stay steady on the switchback course he's created, NBC may have another hit on its hands.
When: 10 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-14-DLV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and violence)
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