Late in an upcoming episode of FOXâ€™s â€œHuman Target,â€ master bodyguard Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) enjoys a bottle of aged Scotch with partners Winston (Chi McBride) and Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley). Their little business has been through a lot of changes over the previous few episodes, including the arrival of a wealthy new owner whoâ€™s outfitted the office with expensive new gadgets.
â€œLook at this place,â€ Chance says.
â€œLooks a bit different than it used to,â€ Guerrero acknowledges.
â€œWorse?â€ asks Chance.
â€œToo early to tell,â€ Guerrero suggests.
Thatâ€™s more or less how I feel about the revamped â€œHuman Target,â€ which makes a belated season two debut tomorrow night at 8. During the long off-season, FOX hired a new lead producer in â€œChuckâ€ alum Matt Miller, and heâ€™s made a lot of changes to the show that havenâ€™t necessarily made it better or worse, but obviously different.
The core of the show, thankfully, was left alone. The chemistry between likable leads Valley, McBride and Haley is still sparkling. (And where last year Winston served as a go-between for the other two, Chance and Guerrero frequently interact now, a clear improvement.) And the action sequences are still among the best Iâ€™ve ever seen on television; next weekâ€™s episode features a spectacular man vs. car, parkour-flavored chase scene.
It was and continues to be a very simple show. To borrow a phrase from the era in which this series would comfortably belong, if you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire Christopher Chance and friends to save your life.
Itâ€™s the changes around that core Iâ€™m not sure about.
The show â€œHuman Targetâ€ was last spring definitely could have used some improving. Though the leads and action were great, the actual cases Chance and company worked each week usually felt forgettable. I often found myself struggling to pay attention outside of the fight scenes or moments that were just about Chance bantering with Winston, or Winston with Guerrero.
The season finale, which delved into Chance and Guerreroâ€™s days as assassins, and how Winston convinced Chance to reform, suggested a deeper, less disposable show, and one I could see making a big creative leap forward in season two. Miller, though, cannot dispense with leftover business from that finale fast enough before setting off in a different direction.
We soon move on to new business, with Chance being approached by a client: wealthy widow Ilsa Pucci (Indira Varma, Vorenusâ€™ wife on HBOâ€™sÂ â€œRomeâ€), who fears her life is in danger, but who has a hard time following Chanceâ€™s instructions. Ilsa is so impressed by how Chance solves her problem that she offers to buy the company and offer the men access to the many toys of her late husbandâ€™s vast empire.
Never mind that these three seem like the last guys on earth who would want a boss. And donâ€™t bother wondering why Ames (Janet Montgomery), a beautiful thief who crosses their path on the case, suddenly decides she wants to be a good guy and join the team. The addition of the two women isnâ€™t handled any more gracefully than the blink-and-youâ€™ll-miss-it resolution of last yearâ€™s cliffhanger, but itâ€™s the new structure Miller wants, and the question is whether it adds enough to justify the contortions.
And my answer, even after Iâ€™ve seen three episodes, is that itâ€™s too early to tell.
The new characters definitely have their uses. Chance, Winston and Guerrero have such a long history, and such obvious shorthand with each other, that there was an insular quality to their work last year. Now they have two newbies to whom they have to explain things, and while the exposition can at times becoming annoying (Ilsa spends much of the second episode being an insufferable pest to Winston), thereâ€™s value in seeing this world through fresh eyes - to watching, for instance, Ilsaâ€™s reaction to evidence of Chanceâ€™s old life as a killer, or seeing Ames tempted by her former partner. Both British-born actresses work well with the established male leads, though the only Varma is allowed to use her native accent, where whatever Montgomeryâ€™s doing (I think sheâ€™s going for outer borough Noo Yawk?) comes and goes.
Miller has also taken steps to make the cases feel more essential by adding a personal stake for one of our heroes each week. Ilsa and Ames, respectively, are the clients in the first and third episode, and Chance has a history with the woman he has to protect in the second. Iâ€™m not sure how sustainable that is - do it too often, and by the end of a season Guerreroâ€™s helping out his father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate - and the nature of Chanceâ€™s relationship with the second client leads to an unsatisfying resolution, but it does seem like a better idea than the disconnected, generic clients of season one.
Mostly, though, Millerâ€™s changes feel cosmetic. The show doesnâ€™t especially need cool gadgets (Winston spends a lot of time moving images around a series of touch screens), and I preferred Bear McCrearyâ€™s movie-style theme to the revamped one by â€œChuckâ€ composer Tim Jones and the use of pop songs in place of McCrearyâ€™s score.
But â€œHuman Targetâ€ is still â€œHuman Target.â€ If you enjoyed the show last year, you will now. If, like me, you were hoping for something just a little bit deeper, you might need to wait a while to see.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com