Tailor-made for the viewer who found CBS's cockamamie “Hostages” far too believable, NBC's ridiculously conceived new drama “Crisis” (premiering Sunday) is about the kidnapping of a busload of very important teenagers who attend an elite private school in Washington. One of them is the president's son, so it's a crisis, all right. The FBI musters all of its available broadband so that a lot of characters can stare at a wall of giant monitors, look concerned and order drones into action.
Then again, what's so ridiculous? What's so unbelievable? I ask because even as I write this review, there is still no sign whatsoever of that Malaysian Airlines flight to Beijing that disappeared last Saturday carrying 239 people. The theories about what happened to the plane are getting no more or less strange than the shows that so frequently materialize on any network's prime-time schedule. If you squint a certain way, and if you tolerated enough of “Homeland's” second- and third-season swerves, why not buy into “Crisis'” harmlessly dumb premise and see where it leads?
Well, there is the issue of it not being a good TV show, but that's certainly never stopped anyone from watching something. You don't have to take “Crisis” too seriously; it will happily do that for you, spreading its pompous misery evenly among a cast large enough to fill at least three or four mediocre TV shows, if you count all the teenagers.
Lance Gross plays newbie Secret Service agent Marcus Finley, who gets a last-minute assignment to the team protecting the president's teenage son (Adam Scott Miller), who is going on an overnight Habitat for Humanity-style charity trip with his classmates.
En route, their bus (for some reason traveling on a two-lane road in the sticks) is stopped by kidnappers disguised as Maryland state troopers. Wounded by his fellow agent-turned-bad-guy, Marcus flees into the woods with one of the students (Joshua Erenberg) — a chubby smart kid no one likes. (Never say die, Goonie.)
The FBI is so on it. Agent Susie Dunn (Rachael Taylor) is tasked with placating a roomful of the world's most demanding parents and getting them to calm down and help the investigation. Susie's niece Amber (Halston Sage) is one of the kids on the bus; Amber's mother, Meg (Gillian Anderson), is the techie billionaire CEO sister Susie hasn't spoken to in years. Arriving by helicopter — she is literally a helicopter parent — Anderson does a superb job of portraying an actress who isn't exactly thrilled with the material she's been getting lately.
Meanwhile, Dermot Mulroney plays a milquetoast-y former CIA analyst who volunteered to be a chaperon on the field trip, ostensibly to be closer to his estranged daughter (Stevie Lynn Jones). He's now one of the hostages, but no one's counting on him to save the day.
Good thing, because this is one of those shows where just about every character is not who they seem to be. Even Anderson's character — styled in a manner more befitting a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills than the ruthless executive she's trying to play — isn't quite telling the truth about what's going on.
Everyone's dirty, or potentially dirty, as good guys become bad guys and then switch back again — it's all so tiring! Here I was hoping for something simple and Chowchilla-like (bury the kids in a ventilated hole and send out the ransom request!), but these kidnappers have such elaborate schemes for what happens next that you can't help heckling the show as it unravels. “Crisis” is a prime example of just how much spaghetti a new drama is required to throw at the wall these days in order to get anything to stick; it's as if no one will watch a new TV drama unless there is a heightened degree of the ludicrous in every frame.
Held captive in an empty mansion in the woods, the teenagers get restless and petulant, exerting their right to don't-you-know-who-I-am bursts of indignation. One boy genius works out the social science and ranks his peers on their expendability, based on who their parents are. (Thanks, Nate Silver.) One girl has a breakdown when she realizes she's going to miss her Juilliard audition. It would all work so much better as a “Heathers”-ish send-up of what happens when you kidnap too many spoiled brats. Remind me again why we want them rescued?
The second episode is titled “If You Are Watching This, I Am Dead,” which I briefly thought might be a subliminal message from the network's publicity department. But it probably has something to do with the plot, as the kidnappers begin ordering the highly connected parents (including Pakistan's ambassador to the United States) to start carrying out covert missions in order to protect their children.
This was also “Hostage's” central (and I think predictably flawed) premise: that we love our offspring and spouses so much that we are willing to thwart the law officers who want to help us and undertake terrorist missions. As the FBI and Secret Service bicker about their next move, agents Dunn and Finley must now contend with parents who are keeping information from them and acting as surrogate agents of “Crisis's” mastermind.
How will it all end? Badly, no doubt.
“Crisis” (one hour) premieres Sunday (EDT) at 10 p.m. on NBC.