Review: In the end, Cinemax's 'Banshee' a fun bit of pulp fiction
"Banshee," the Cinemax crime drama that wraps up its first season tonight at 10, is among the dumbest, most ridiculous, lurid, disgusting shows on all of television.
That is also an enormous part of its charm.
I wasn't crazy about "Banshee" when it premiered back in January. The premise — a recently-released ex-con (Antony Starr) impersonates the new sheriff of a small Pennsylvania town after the man is murdered before he can assume his office — was absurd, but had potential in a classic pulp fiction sense. The problem was that Starr seemed like a blank to me, and other parts of the show — an Amish-born crimelord (Ulrich Thomsen), a police station based in an abandoned Cadillac dealership — felt like creators David Schickler and Jonathan Tropper were trying too hard to be pile on the weirdness for its own sake.
As it turns out, they weren't trying nearly as hard in the first couple of episodes as they would over the course of this 10-episode season. "Banshee" got crazier and sillier — and much, much more violent — as it went along, and its excesses eventually reached the level the premise deserved. It became great mindless fun, and Starr became much more interesting when he got more to do besides squinting mysteriously while his deputies wondered what kind of lunatic they were working for.
The commitment to excess has been especially notable in the fight scenes, with most episodes featuring at least one drawn-out set piece remarkable for both its length and sheer brutality. A fight between our fake Sheriff Hood and a visiting mixed martial arts champ in the third episode went on so long, and got so rough, I began wondering if they were trying to break a record.
That fight in and of itself bought the show several more episodes worth of rope from me, and the series kept upping the deranged, bloody stakes, all the way through tonight's finale, where Hood and his allies — including his deputies, ex-lover Anna (Ivana Milicevic) and partners in crime Job (Hoon Lee) and Sugar (Frankie Faison) — all have to deal with the arrival of Anna's powerful, ruthless gangster father Rabbit (Ben Cross, devouring every last millimeter of scenery with a smile). There's a shootout where one of the deputies does something so outlandish that the only proper response was laughter — which, I suspect, is exactly the response the creative team was aiming for.
"Strike Back," the international co-production that began Cinemax's push into original scripted dramas, is a deeper, more thoughtful piece of work (while still supplying all the guns, ammo and sex scenes required by the channel's brand), where "Banshee" is more of a pure guilty pleasure. But the ratio of pleasure to guilt has been rising all season, and I'm glad Cinemax already ordered another.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by. It has deep soul, a wicked sense of humor, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Pam Grier, and Robert Forster.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
2013 | Thriller | RSummary: Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (D...Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
2007 | Comedy | PGSummary: Newlyweds Nick (Ice Cube) and Suzanne (Long) decide to move to the suburbs to provide a better life for their two kids. But their idea of a dream home is disturbed by a contractor (McGinley) with a bizarre approach to business.Director: Steve Carr
Cast: John C. McGinley, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
1996 | Crime | RSummary: Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt... but he's got a plan. He's going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It's going to be a snap and nobody's going to get hurt... until people start ...Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
Let Streaming Genie help you.