Alan Ball won an Oscar for writing American Beauty, but since then he’s largely stuck to TV, creating Six Feet Under, True Blood and now Banshee. While the basic plot makes Banshee sound very different from True Blood, they are to a certain extent bedfellows. In fact they could be set in the same world, except nobody in Banshee knows about the existence of Vampires and other supernatural entities (or at least they don’t mention it).
After 15-years in prison a man (Anthony Starr) gets released and goes looking for his old girlfriend. However he soon discovers that his old enemy, the villainous Rabbit (Ben Cross), is still after him. After getting away from Rabbit’s goons, he follows his ex, Carrie (Ivana Milicevic), to the town of Banshee, Pennsylvania. She says she doesn’t have the diamonds they stole together, but she does now have a husband and kids who know nothing of her old life.
Shortly afterwards the man is in a bar when an attempted robbery goes bad and results in the death of not just the wannabe thieves, but also Lucas Hood, who’s due to become Banshee’s new sheriff. Seizing the opportunity, the recently paroled felon decides that as no one in Banshee has ever seen Hood, he’ll assume his identity and become the town’s lawman himself.
However this is not an easy job, as this is a town full of secrets. A vicious, former Amish man called Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen) runs the county’s organised crime, and expects Hood to become his man, just like the former sheriffs have. There are the redneck Moody boys, who have Lucas on their hitlist after he’s forced to take out their brother. That’s not to mention Carrie, who has a lot to lose if her old life leaks out. Indeed, behind pretty much every door in Banshee is someone who, given the right circumstance, would do some very, very bad things.
And that’s not to mention Rabbit, who still has the man now known as Lucas Hood very much in his sights.
Banshee shares True Blood’s love of making the good guy the bad guys and then constantly swapping them around. It’s a strategy that will drive some nuts, as you can never truly feel like you’re getting to know these people. At any moment anyone could turn bad, reveal that everything you thought you knew about them was a lie, or do something utterly reprehensible. Others will love it though, as you never quite know what’s coming next or what juicy mystery will start to be unravelled.
You do need a bit of a strong stomach, as this is a show filled with moments of wince-inducing violence, which goes so far it has a bit of a comic-book tone. In fact the whole thing is a tad comic book, from the stretching of credulity that an ex-con could just walk into a job as a sheriff (with the help of a cross-dressing old friend who can apparently cook up false identities at the drop of a hat) to the heightened world of the town of Banshee itself. Lucas is constantly doing things that would either have him locked up in an instant (despite the fact he’s now got a badge) or which would never work in real life in a million years.
It’s all more than a little silly (in fact it’s pretty much ridiculous unless you much treat as being as much fantasy as True Blood) but it is entertaining. As with the first season of many shows, there are moments when it get a little dull or takes things too far as it attempts to find out what works and what doesn’t, but even so it’s surprisingly effective, and the 10-episodes keep you watching.
There’s an okay selection of special features, although much of it feels like advertising (which it was, as the majority are promos made before the series aired on TV). So, for example, while ‘Banshee: Town Of Secret’ is watchable, it’s essentially the cast and crew telling you what an awesome series it is and why you should watch it.
Likewise, ‘Banshee Origins’ promises to offer up titbits that reveal more secrets about how the characters got to where they are. However they feel like short adverts for the show, which are a mix between stating the obvious and letting you know too much about things you’re probably better off letting the show itself reveal. The audio commentaries are pretty good though and the rest is worth a look, even if they are ads.
Overall Verdict: While it’s often difficult to escape the feeling that Banshee is faintly ridiculous, its edge of absurdity antics are very entertaining as it takes you in a violent world where everyone has secrets within secrets.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac