TV review: Banshee
Getting through Alan Ball’s new show requires a strong stomach and powerful painkillers
If Six Feet Under was Alan Ball’s attempt to create a Shakespearean family drama set among the funeral parlours of LA, then Banshee (Sky Atlantic, Mon, 10.15pm) might be his attempt at pitching himself for a Bourne writing gig. While Ball may be positioned as executive producer of this one, his shadow looms large over the series creators, Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler.
For one thing, the opening scenes of Banshee recall pivotal moments in the first episode of Six Feet Under: a careering bus causing mayhem and a passionate tryst in a cramped space: here, the backroom of a café, in SFU, an airport broom cupboard. And once more the core gay character (Hoon Lee’s computer hacker, Job) has both clout in terms of plot and some real zingers.
But the unshaven hunk who dominates almost every scene is quite literally a man with no name. Striding out of a Pennsylvania prison after 15 years inside for his part in stealing some diamonds from a Ukrainian kingpin called Rabbit, and with little more than the clothes on his back and a determined stare, he takes no time waltzing back into his old routine.
Played by Kiwi actor Antony Starr (his US accent slips a couple of times), our heroic crook returns to Banshee, a town split between corrupt businessmen and hard-working Amish (or in the case of nasty old Kai Proctor, both). A twist of gory fate allows him to steal the identity of the new sheriff, Lucas Hood (a surname no doubt chosen to reflect his ability to hide himself), which eases a path to closing in on his criminal accomplice, Anastasia (Ivana Miličević) and his share of the loot.
Except, there is no loot, and she too has a new identity in the shape of Carrie Hopewell (a surname no doubt chosen to reflect her wish to have the past put firmly behind her), as well as a husband (the town’s DA and a Gulf War veteran) and two kids. When ‘Lucas’ catches up with ‘Carrie’, she tells him that her daughter Deva is 13, but he soon discovers she is closer to 16: uh-oh, how many years was he incarcerated?
While Six Feet Under, and Ball’s follow-up True Blood, had moments of stirring excitement, Banshee just goes straight for the jugular and tries not to let its grip relax. It’s a pumped-up and wholly unsubtle ride full of vehicle chases, illegal raves and preposterous sex, plus there are some terrible lines in among the zingers: ‘is that the judge in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?’ is the kind of thing that makes sensitive ears bleed.
As well as some elongated and frank sex scenes (even when Lucas isn’t physically in them, he is the fantasy figure in Carrie’s head), the violence is gut-turning and brutal: when two young girls stick their heads out of a car sunroof, there isn’t a Six Feet Under fan alive who won’t be thinking of the famous limo decapitation scene. At least this time, heads do remain on shoulders though other perils await Deva. And you just know that Lucas will be on hand to try and save his (probable) daughter. Welcome to Banshee: TV’s version of a blinding migraine.