While the narrative framework is one that immediately questions its own longevity, at least for the first two episodes NBC’s suspenseful drama ‘Crisis’ is serviceable and entertaining, albeit rather unremarkable.
In what seems like a story more inclined to a miniseries or anthology treatment, ‘Crisis’ quickly presents the titular chaos that ensues in Washington, D.C., only to very slowly peel back the layers to a complex conspiracy.
The cold open, though, tries half-heartedly and fails miserably to put us at what is assumed to be a high tension moment. This "in medias res" beginning, one that is presumably meant to intrigue and befuddle viewers, features two characters that have no idea what is going on, and rather little suspense.
So let’s forget that, and just start with what comes next, because that’s far more compelling. A school bus of children – the offspring of affluent D.C. power players and politicos, including the president – gets sidetracked and ambushed. Held at gunpoint by people they (and we) thought could be trusted, the teenagers and their two chaperones, including a seemingly ineffectual Dermot Mulroney (‘Crisis’ makes it clear early on that every just "seem"’ to be something – who knows who’s who?), are knocked out and taken to a nicely-decorated and covert mansion.
So ignites the national storm, propelling headstrong and attractive FBI agent Susie Dunn (Rachael Taylor) into action. She is reluctantly paired up with newbie Secret Service agent Marcus Finley (Lance Gross), for he seems (see?) to be the only agent from that department that can be trusted; he also managed to survive being shot during the ambush and flee with a child, so I guess he can be trusted.
Dunn and Finley make up the buddy-cop aspect of this fast-paced and very compact thriller, and that is arguably the most enjoyable part. She is determined, no-nonsense, with something lurking in her past, while he is a neophyte on the job and not especially trusted or trustworthy; and I’m sure he has a past. Finley questions everything, and at the same time Dunn can’t help but occasionally question her own judgment as, wait for it, her niece is among the students captured.
As you can see, ‘Crisis’ is full of (minor and major) twists, maybe a half dozen or so during the pilot, and while it’s in danger of getting too clever for its own good, at least to start it’s intriguing.
The mystery works; there are some genuinely nicely shocking moments as creator Rand Ravich adeptly introduces a slew of characters in the first 10 minutes. The conceit, though, is too on the nose. "How far would you go and what would you do to save your child?" is the phrase the show has promoted, and some of the characters even make a point of saying it.
As our two young leads reluctantly, predictably pair up to solve this elaborate case, the attention shifts to the parents who at not-so-random intervals are given assignments from the captors, like send money, or assassinate someone.
One of those parents is Meg Fitch, played by Gillian Anderson. She is among those Washington super rich and powerful. She is also Dunn’s estranged sister (see! OK, not a twist).
Thus, family drama, mystery, geopolitics, and the aforementioned buddy-cop situation make up this very busy hour-long offering, and while none of the aspects are done poorly, there is nothing that is done particularly great.
‘Crisis’ gets off on the wrong foot, but quickly rights itself, and is worthy of extended viewing. The question you end up asking though isn’t about children, but instead about the livelihood of the show. Surely, this ‘Crisis’ can’t reasonably extend beyond the first season, can it?
Perhaps it could follow something like '24,' where each new season is a new fantastical problem. ‘Crisis,’ though, seemed too grounded to go for something so outlandishly entertaining. It seems unlikely too that the future holds a situation from ‘The Killing,’ in which we more intimately follow the two main agents.
It matters not, for now, but if things continue to get complex and outrageous, you may be able to figure how long the creators plan to draw out this emergency. If the misplaced opening and the many subversions that follow are any indication, ‘Crisis’ aims to please, even if it’s trying too hard to be a lot of things to a lot of people.
‘Crisis’ premieres on Sunday, March 16 at 10/9c on NBC.