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Blacklist: Season One, The

Sony Pictures // Unrated // August 12, 2014
List Price: $75.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted August 13, 2014 | E-mail the Author

The Blacklist (2013- ) is NBC's other series about a charming, well-dressed criminal working with a young, gifted member of the FBI to stop gruesome crimes while secretly harboring ulterior motives...but hey, who's counting? This marks the first developed TV production from screenwriter Jon Bokenkamp (Taking Lives) and, aside from glaring similarities to Thomas Harris' work and about a dozen other shows and movies, has its own set of strengths. The most obvious is James Spader's central performance as Raymond "Red" Reddington, a former agent gone AWOL and currently on the FBI's Most Wanted list. He surrenders one morning at the front desk...under the condition that he'll only do business with rookie profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), who's set to start work the same morning. She has no idea why.

During the course of this 22-episode season, The Blacklist slowly begins to reveal the personalities, shortcomings, and true intentions of many of its central characters. "Red" and Elizabeth, of course. Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold), Liz's trusting and seemingly docile husband, with whom she's hoping to adopt a child. Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff), Liz's no-nonsense partner who distrusts the attention brought upon their partnership. Assistant Director Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) who, like most of Liz's co-workers, seems stuck in the middle of her relationship with "Red" and the Bureau. Also present are a few members of Red's culturally diverse security detail, including his bodyguard Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) and CIA Agent Meera Malik (Parminder Nagra). But with few exceptions, these are not your typical "white knights".

Since a few of the so-called good guys have their own motives, you'd think that the other side of the coin would be just as gray...but nope, they're even more heinous. Known as "The Blacklisters", these monsters-of-the-week serve as Reddington's intended targets that he's helping the FBI track down, even if he's using them for his own advantage. For the most part, this rogues' gallery is comprised of a few surprisingly high-profile guest stars, including Tom Noonan (Manhunter), Isabella Rossellini, Frank Whaley, Ritchie Coster, Campbell Scott, Jennifer Ehle, Dianne West, Hoon Lee, Mark Ivanir, and more. Some are brought to justice. Some quickly disappear. Some are killed, one way or another.

So if The Blacklist does one thing right during this first season, it completely commits to its rather unlikely premise and sprints full-speed ahead. Twists and turns abound during these 22 episodes, and you'll probably see at least half of them coming well in advance. But the effort is commendable: there's an awful big cast of characters here, and The Blacklist does a decent job of blending one-shot stories with "the big picture" as its mythology develops. There are a few obvious problems, including some rather hammy dialogue (sold admirably by Spader, more often than not), a few vanilla supporting characters, and some of the least convincing CGI you'll see during the sporadic action sequences. Despite these glaring flaws and a few others, The Blacklist remains an entertaining new series with room to develop. If nothing else, Spader elevates this material in a way that nobody could during The Office's torturous eighth season.

Sony's release of The Blacklist: Season One is available on DVD or Blu-ray, but today's review covers the latter. In both cases, these sets have been rushed to allow plenty of time before the Season Two premiere on September 22nd...and, aside from the high quality A/V presentation, this quick turnaround time is all too evident. Extras are present but they're largely promotional in nature...and the less said about the menu interface and packaging, the better. But before all that, anyone less familiar with The Blacklist can browse the episode list and summaries below (mild spoilers, of course).

Not surprisingly, these recent episodes look fantastic on Blu-ray; this is likely due to strong source material and Sony's solid track record of serving up quality discs. These 1080p, 1.78:1 transfers exhibit striking image quality which should easily beat over-the-air HD broadcasts, both in "first impression" and overall consistency. The color palettes are well-rendered, textures are crisp and even the most dimly-lit scenes don't exhibit too much image loss. The only sore thumb is, again, the sporadic use of less-than-convincing CGI, but this is strictly a source material issue. Overall, it's virtually impossible to find even the most minor flaws here, which earns The Blacklist: Season One a perfect rating overall.

DISCLAIMER: This still images featured in this review were taken from promotional outlets and do not represent Blu-Ray's 1080p resolution.

Likewise, The Blacklist has no shortage of action and this Blu-ray package serves it well. Presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio with optional English, SDH and multiple foreign subtitles, there's a good balance here; unlike your average blockbuster, shows like this one are mixed with smaller rooms in mind and the more controlled dynamics are appreciated. Say what you will about The Blacklist's overcooked sound effects during hand-to-hand combat and the like; it still packs a heavy punch without sacrificing dialogue clarity and surround ambiance in the process. Channel separation is very strong as well. Without question, this is a high quality presentation that consistently sets the mood within minutes.

I'm not a fan of the interface: it's dull and, in certain respects, kind of confusing. Sub-menus are organized smartly, but each disc lists every single episode on the selection screen...and if you pick one that's not on the particular disc, it'll tell you which disc to load. Why not just list each disc's content where it should be? Only by referring to the content listing (on the inside cover, and repurposed above for your convenience) can you tell what goes where. Speaking of the packaging, there's five discs stacked on two hubs. Hinges, people! *Sigh* least the matching slipcover is nice.

Like the episodes, each and every bonus feature is listed on all five disc menus for some reason. Clicking on the wrong one lets you know where it's at...but unlike the episodes, there's no printed insert to let you know beforehand. So I'll point out where each one is located, but here's hoping this type of awful, lazy menu interface goes away immediately.

To be fair, most of these extras are divided across different discs for good reason. Three Audio Commentaries lead off with words from executive producers Jon Bokenkamp, John Eisendrath, and Joe Carnahan during the pilot episode, "Anslo Garrick, Part 1", and "Berlin: Conclusion". As expected, they go into modest detail about these productions and are for more serious fans of the show. Zooming out a bit, we also get 22 bite-sized episode featurettes entitled "Beyond The Blacklist" (5-6 minutes apiece) that, while limited in scope and detail, offer a nice amount of blanket coverage.

Others are simply scattered around haphazardly, such as the six Blu-ray exclusive Character Dossiers (5-7 minutes apiece) for Aram Mojtabai (Disc 1), Meera Malik and Harold Cooper (Disc 2), Donald Ressler (Disc 3), Tom Keen (Disc 4), and Elizabeth Keen and "Red" Reddington (Disc 5). These clip-heavy little interview nuggets simply feature respective cast members shedding light on their characters during this season, and they're only worth watching once at best.

The same goes for the three (slightly) more in-depth featurettes included here. Both "Inception: Making the Pilot" (Disc 1, 7:49) and "The Insider: Behind Season 1" (Disc 2, 14:00) respectively offer narrow and slightly broader details about Season 1's development and progression, while "Rogues' Gallery: The Blacklisters" (Disc 3, 11:24) takes a look at the villainous guest stars...who, disappointingly enough, are not featured on-camera. All told, these featurettes include words from the three executive producers listed above, as well as producer Brandon Margolis, writer Brandon Sonner, executive producer John Zinman, James Spader, Megan Boone, Harry Lennix, and others. Subtitles are included.

I'd love to give The Blacklist a more enthusiastic thumbs-up out of the gate. It's got a rock-solid centerpiece with James Spader's "Red" Reddington, an ever-so-slightly vanilla but confident supporting cast, interesting guest stars, plenty of action, and more. But the writing is also hit-or-miss, much of the CGI is distracting and, obviously enough, we've seen this type of "father-daughter" FBI procedural plenty of times before (on the same network, even). Sony's Blu-ray package is also a mixed bag: the A/V presentation is flawless...but the extras are mostly lukewarm, while the menu interface and packaging feel lazy and rushed. Still, there's some good entertainment value here, and plenty of time to prep for Season 2 next if you're at all interested in The Blacklist, this comes mildly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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