David Giesbrecht/CBS
October 02, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT
We gave it a B-

Hostages is a drama built around the kind of situational ethics question that stoned college kids might like to debate after they?ve run out of stupider things to discuss: Let?s say you were forced to choose between killing the President of the United States or letting your family die. Which way would you go?

I know what I would do, and that is now why I am on a federal watch list.


An admirable risk for CBS, which is stepping outside its comfort zone of procedural, formulaic police dramas with this edgy serial, Hostages could be an involving thriller-soap falling somewhere along the 24HomelandScandal axis?if it doesn’t get in the way of itself. But that ”if” is might big, and the pilot gives you reasons to doubt. Toni Collette is Dr. Ellen Sanders, a surgeon who has to operate on President Paul Kincaid (John Naughton). Dylan McDermott is Duncan Carlisle, a rogue FBI agent who has some unspecified complaints with the commander-in-chief. Must be big beefs, because he’s conspiring with an untold number of similarly aggrieved or sympathetic law enforcement agents and private citizens (including his father) to put down POTUS via Dr. Sanders. Should she fail to execute the mission, Carlisle and his cohorts will execute her family: Husband Brian (Tate Donovan), daughter Morgan (Quinn Shephard), son Jake (Mateus Ward).

Beyond the leads — two actors I would gladly follow anywhere, especially Collette — what I enjoyed about the pilot for Hostages was the mystery of Agent Carlisle’s intentions and the potential for a cleverly conceived and scaled chess match between Carlisle and Sanders as she tries to subvert his manipulations without triggering his retribution. Yet the villainous master plan intrigue will only take this show so far, and the captor-captive gameplay does seem impossible to sustain or even do well. But I prefer to let them fail before deciding it can’t ever be done. The pilot casts the line well enough; I’ll judge the artfulness of the angling and the quality of the catch as it goes.

There’s another aspect of the show that struck me as both laughably grating and actually kinda interesting at the same time. Of course, each member of the family has a secret or problem of some kind. Brian is having an affair. Morgan has an unapproved boyfriend that she sneaks out to smooch. Jake is dealing drugs and has a supplier to pay off. I get the sense that everyone is acting out because Mommy and Daddy are workaholics who don’t spend enough time with each other and with the kids. (This might be wishful thinking: Maybe the show will be dumb enough to lay all the blame at Dr. Sanders’ feet. Evil Career Mom! Neglecting your wifely and motherly duties, turning your spouse into an adulterer and kids into moral delinquents!) Agent Carlisle’s team has thoroughly vetted the Sanders clan, so they are keenly aware of most of their issues, and the pilot suggests that future episodes will see the hostage takers help their hostages out of their life jams. These aren’t terrorizing home invaders — they’re social workers executing a hostile takeover of an at-risk family! Please: Feel free to take me and mine captive next! We could use the help. And you already know I’ll play ball.


The pilot leaves you asking: ”Where the hell does it go from here?” For some, this discourages investment. They assume a lack of vision; they haven’t seen enough in the pilot to inspire trust. I don’t assume a lack of vision here; and this pilot has enough — barely — to make me want to see the next episode. We’ll take it week to week from there. If the writing can bring invention to the thriller parts and smarts to the domestic parts, and invention, Hostages could have an indefinite hold on our imagination. B-

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