Bodyguard-for-hire Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) has only one rule, and that’s to trust him. It’s important that he stress this up front, because he’s rarely got time to convince his clients to jump out a 12th-floor window in the midst of sniper fire. It’s important that FOX quickly get this out of the way too, because their sophomore season of Human Target is at its best when it’s allowed to skip the exposition and get straight to the over-the-top, comic book-y action scenes. Like the character, the show exists pretty much as pure attitude, a cross between a Whedon-esque rogue and a cool, Abrams-like action hero; thinking is not their strong suit.
From the looks of Human Target’s first few episodes, that trust isn’t just there, it’s implicit. The premiere, “Ilsa Pucci,” introduces two new characters: the philanthropic Pucci (Indira Varma), who, saved by Chance, decides to fund his heroics, and a cocky, brash young thief, Ames (Janet Montgomery), who’s attempting to go straight. Though nobody’s related by blood, these additions make for a nice TV family dynamic; Pucci quickly becomes the mother of the group, balancing out the cautious and stern father figure, Winston (Chi McBride), and Ames’s rebellious streak allows her to bond both with “crazy uncle” Guerrero (Jackie Early Haley), a gun-loving torturer with no time for subtlety, and Chance, who is humanized by this older-brother role. By the end of the third episode, “Taking Ames,” in which Chase goes undercover on a jewel heist in order to help Ames sever her criminal ties, it feels as if the gang’s been together forever.
The speedy execution of plot and the simplified characters also allows the show to focus more on Chance’s past. “Everyone’s afraid to die, Mr. Chance,” says Mrs. Pucci, “unless they believe they deserve it.” After a whole season of watching a fearless Chance high-speed skydive onto a rooftop, fly a passenger plane upside down, grapple onto a moving plane from within a cargo net (to say nothing of all the times he’s brought only his fists to a gun fight), it’s a pleasure to finally see why he believes he should die. In the second episode, “The Wife’s Tale,” Chance finds himself protecting the wife of a man he himself killed in his former role as a hitman, and the writers wisely stay away from a simple tale of forgiveness and redemption.
That’s where Human Target starts hitting the bull’s eye: Given the easygoing charms of the cast and the inevitable success of their highly unorthodox, often on-the-fly methods, the complications are what make for compelling television. The humorous relationships are fun (“What Jay-Z is to rap, what Louie Vuitton is to luggage, [Guerrero] is to torturing the truth out of people,” boasts Ames), but better still are the twists and turns of each new assignment. Thanks to the exciting new chemistry on the show, Human Target can now find complications within the ensemble, and not just within each week’s set piece.
There are hardly any action shows left on television, and few are as silly as this. (In terms of tone, it’s not quite as strong as Chuck, but it’s far better than Nikita or The Good Guys.) As you may have noticed from The A-Team, The Expendables, and Red, the days of realism are dead: Long live the shameless explosions of dramaction.