Orion editor Jo Gledhill reviews gritty, off-beat crime series Banshee.
I hadn’t read the premise before I watched Banshee, but with Jonathan Tropper as one of the writers, I was expecting something similar to his novels – a clever, funny, quietly emotional hour of TV. But Banshee is not like this. Banshee is crazy. And violent. And brilliant in a different way.
The plot revolves around a ludicrous hook – an ex-con (Anthony Starr) assumes the identity of a new-to-town and recently murdered police sheriff. Clad in the dead man’s uniform and flashing his badge, Lucas Hood begins to dispense some Wild West-style justice on the small Pennsylvanian town of Banshee. And for the most part, the residents are oddly impressed with Hood’s straight-shooting approach to crime fighting. But the dead bodies quickly pile up.
The writers add outrageous twists to unbelievable turns, pushing the pace up and creating a beautifully balanced house of cards that could all come crashing down around Lucas Hood at any moment – the suspense! Throw into the mix an intensely simmering love story, an Amish-born gangster who runs the town, a murderous Russian gangster who will stop at nothing to see Hood dead and a delicious clash of domestic life and hyper-violent kicking-of-ass, and you have a show that feels more HBO than Cinemax – flashy and clever.
The series is exaggerated at almost every turn – the violence evokes parallels with Tarantino, the characters are unforgiving and mostly insane, the plot is fast and messy, the cinematography is slick and the dialogue is smooth and peppered with one-liners. Yet despite its silliness, or perhaps because of it, it’s utterly compelling.
The audience instantly falls for Starr’s character – a man with a dark past and an off-kilter moral code. You want him to get the girl, keep the job, defeat all the (other) bad guys that cross his path. And as he staggers away bloody and bruised from yet another fight, you can’t help but hope the next one isn’t far away.
Although the action is anything but subtle, the characters do develop into complex and fully realised people, rooted in familiar territory, which helps to ground the plotlines and offer some emotional context for the story. I particularly love Ivana Milicevic’s character, Carrie – a fighting machine who hides behind the suburban veneer of mother and wife, her family knowing nothing about her bloody past and her history with Lucas Hood.
Banshee is a bit like a pulp Justified, a bit like a vampire-free True Blood, but mostly it is just awesome.
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Banshee is currently available to view on Sky Go. Jo Gledhill is an editor at Orion working with such authors as Charlaine Harris, Tami Hoag and Steve Mosby. She also works closely with TV companies who want to turn fantastic books into fantastic telly.