Blu-ray Review: Banshee - The Complete First Season

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With the first season of Banshee now on Blu-ray, the Cinemax original series’ strengths and weaknesses are quite easily detectable when watching the ten episodes in quick succession. At its center is the likeable anti-hero Lucas Hood, played with magnetic charm by Antony Starr. Hood isn’t really his name. He blew into Banshee, PA after doing 15 years of hard time and quickly got into a bar scuffle which resulted in the death of the real Lucas Hood—Banshee’s newly appointed sheriff. Since no one had met Hood yet, and the only living witness to his death is the trustworthy bar owner Sugar (Frankie Faison), the ex-con assumes the dead sheriff’s identity and reports for work.

Antony Starr is easily Banshee’s strongest asset. Hood’s a dangerous dude when crossed, a highly skilled fighter who won’t quit until his opponent is down for the count (or worse). Starr plays him with a combination of charm and aggression. He convinces us that Hood is, at heart, a principled man who happens to be a career thief. With Anastasia (Ivana Miličević), his former partner (both professional and romantic), he ripped off Ukrainian crime boss Mr. Rabbit (Ben Cross). Rabbit happens to be Anastasia’s father, who is now seeking Hood since the prison release. Anastasia lives under an assumed identity, Carrie Hopewell, with her husband and two children. Her family knows nothing of her crime-ridden past. She wants nothing to do with her father, but now Rabbit can try to kill two birds with one stone since both she and Hood are in Banshee.

Banshee Carrie (187x280).jpgHood is accepted by the other law enforcement officers of Banshee, who are initially (and understandably) taken aback by his take-no-prisoners policing style. The series is fairly episodic, which works against it. It isn’t hard to jump in anywhere and figure out the gist of what’s happening. That might be good for casual viewing but unfortunately, when taken as a whole there is a lack of forward momentum in the plotting. As the crime rate in Banshee suddenly spikes, with a renegade sheriff doling out what sometimes appears to be vigilante-style justice, so does the level of implausibility. Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen), formerly part of Banshee’s prominent Amish community, is now the local crime honcho in town. His business intersects with Hood’s “law enforcement,” as does his sultry niece Rebecca (Lili Simmons), and all of it is separate from the Mr. Rabbit situation.

In other words, there’s an awful going on in this small Pennsylvania town. Once the feds get involved, inevitably given all the wild goings-on, it becomes harder and harder to swallow that Hood’s cover is not blown. After all, he continues participating in crime while posing as the sheriff. In “Half Deaf is Better Than All Dead,” he gets into a tight spot while trying to rob a museum. With Anastasia/Carrie’s assistance, he avoids capture but not before getting in the middle of some officer-involved shootings. The escape sequence is one of many over the top moments that keep Banshee simultaneously entertaining, yet hard to take seriously.

Lots of “Skinemax”-style nudity and sex scenes, while certainly not unwelcome with the likes of sexy actresses like Miličević and Simmons, also adds to the pulpy, B-movie atmosphere. The strange, eccentric crime figures seem to suggest that producer Alan Ball (creator of Six Feet Under and True Blood) and his co-producers are aiming for a Twin Peaks-type surrealism, but the humor is missing. The shadowy presence of religious extremism brings to mind the FLDS community in Big Love, yet so far Banshee falls short of those shows. All episodes are tagged with a brief post-credits scene. The final episode contains the most intriguing one, effectively setting up next season.

Banshee Rebecca (380x253).jpgOn Blu-ray, Banshee has the appearance and audio quality of a theatrical film. The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer is razor sharp, showing off the excellent digital cinematography by Christopher Faloona. The series has a dark, shadow-drenched look, but detail remains very strong throughout no matter the lighting. Each episode carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix that offers plenty of firepower during the series’ many shootouts. While far from the most immersive surround mix, the rears are used judiciously and the LFE channel adds layers of realistic bottom end. Dialogue is rock solid, anchored to the center channel, and always crystal clear.

For extras, we get commentaries on six of the ten episodes. The tracks feature various cast and crew members, with most of the best information coming from the producers and various directors. The other most significant feature is “Banshee Origins,” a half-hour series of short prequel segments that stretch back to many years before Hood’s arrival, taking us right up to the beginning of the pilot episode. While not essential, they’re worth a look. The rest of the supplements are quite short, often inane (pop-up trivia for each title sequence?), and unlikely to be revisited even by the show’s biggest fans.

Banshee is an unchallenging, breezy, action-oriented series bolstered by the intensely committed performance by Antony Starr. The supporting cast is likable (including Matt Servitto and Trieste Kelly Dunn as Hood’s deputies and Hoon Lee as another of his former partners in crime). But after so much set up, hopefully season two maintains the entertainment value while deepening the overall story arc.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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