Thursday, July 7, 2016

Television: Banshee

Every now and then I discover some media I missed—a TV show, musical artist, recent (or classic) movie, etc. that slipped under my radar. Something I overlooked for some reason, but can now take the pleasure of finding and enjoying. Case in point: Banshee. I had heard this show was fun and a bit naughty, but never paid it much attention. This is the Golden Age of TV, so another action show on a minor pay movie channel just got lost in the cacophony. I am now having an absolute blast making up for lost time.

Banshee just finished its run this year after four roller coaster seasons. Seasons one and two are free on Amazon Prime, so I tried the first episode a few weeks back. It was like crack. I slammed through those two seasons, then went into withdrawal when, like any good dealer, Amazon wanted money for the last two. Now I had to turn back to Netflix for the physical discs. The gratification isn’t as instantaneous, but sometimes waiting makes things better.

Banshee features a simple, high-concept plot. A convict (Antony Starr) is released from prison after a 15-year sentence. He returns to his old haunts in New York to track down a woman. He finds her in Banshee, PA. Stopping at a local bar for a drink, he steps into the middle of a shakedown from two toughs working for the local crime lord. Just getting into town, brand new sheriff Lucas Hood also happens to be at the bar having lunch and is killed by the two toughs. The convict, with the help of the friendly ex-con bartender, assumes the identity of the sheriff no one has met and becomes head law enforcement officer of Banshee. Of course it helps that he is a smart, tough martial arts expert who can bluff his way through almost any situation.

The show is incredibly well cast. Ivana Milicevic plays Anastasia, the Russian mobster’s daughter he has come to Banshee to find. She has built a new life under an alias and has a husband and kids now. The nature of their connection is fascinating and is the crux of the show. Familiar character actor Matt Servitto is Deputy Brock Lotus, the long-serving officer who should have gotten the Sheriff’s job. He doesn’t care for the new guy’s attitude or his penchant for cutting corners. Trieste Kelly Dunn is Siobahn (pronounced Sha-vawn) Kelly, a hot deputy who has an instant crush on faux-Lucas. Ulrich Thomsen is brilliant as former Amish man Kai Procter, now a powerful crime lord who rules the Banshee underworld with an iron fist. Lili Simmons is Rebecca, his drop-dead gorgeous, promiscuous niece who is torn between Amish society and the world. If she’s not careful the choice will be made for her by the Amish elders.

The town of Banshee has three groups rubbing up against each other; the townspeople, the Amish and the local American Indian tribe. Faux-Lucas (his real name has not been revealed as far as I have watched) has his hands full protecting the Amish, dealing with Procter and keeping out of Indian affairs; mostly regarding the new casino the tribe wants to build (and Procter wants a piece of). On the side he continues his thieving ways by still carrying out grand thefts with Anastasia and their pal Job; mostly from large illegal organizations who won’t report the money missing. Yes, fake sheriff is a thief, but has a sense of fairness and decency that makes him a likable, sympathetic character. In my favorite episode so far, an MMA champion comes to down and beats his one-night stand to a pulp. Sheriff Hood has to deal with his violent resistance to arrest. The subsequent fight is epic and definitive. I love the action choreography of this show. Season 3 contains one of the most epic hand-to-hand martial arts fights I’ve ever seen, and I’m a martial arts connoisseur. And Hood isn’t even involved!

The plots on Banshee are fast moving and thrilling. Someone is always poking a rattlesnake, and that rattlesnake always strikes back. Faux-Lucas is trying to steal, resuscitate his relationship with Anastasia and run the sheriff’s department. Oh, and fight crime and make an occasional arrest. The character takes more physical punishment during a typical episode than Mike Tyson took in his entire career.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t warn potential viewers about the astronomical levels of sex and violence in Banshee. It has the most per-minute explicit sex scenes and over the top violence of any TV show of its type. A level comparable to Game of Thrones. But actually it’s all in good fun. Banshee is a thrill-a-minute romp that never takes itself too seriously. Yes, faux-Lucas is sort of a bad guy. But he regularly beats the living @#$% out of worse bad guys. That at least makes him an anti-hero, right? Either way, the writing and performances in the show are an absolute blast.
Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

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