Cinemax, in hopes of changing its image has delved into the world of primetime action drama series driven towards the core demographic of men who are 18 to 50 years old. One of those shows created by “Six Feet Under” producer Alan Ball is “Banshee” and it has all the markings that would feed into the male primal senses that Cinemax has been feeding us late at night for the last couple of decades. The DVD release is being distributed under their parent company, HBO.
Antony Starr stars as Lucas Hood, a name he adopts after assuming the identity of a murdered sheriff. Let me back up. A nameless ex-con is recently released from prison after 15 years and almost immediately is targeted by people in suits using machine guns. After he escapes, he seemingly stops in a small town for a drink. As he is there, the newly appointed sheriff walks in for some food. This is before he even gets to the police station to meet the other officers or anyone else in the town. Two thugs walk in to stick up the joint. This results in the ex-con dispatching the thugs only after they kill the sheriff. After a quick bonding session with the bartender, Sugar (Frankie Faison), they decide to bury them all and he’ll assume the identity of the sheriff. That is the initial setup. As the show moves further along, you find out he is in this particular town for a reason. His ex-girlfriend/ex-crime partner Anna (Ivana Milicevic) has moved to this town to start a new life and she has, complete with a new name (Carrie) a house, a husband who is a high profile attorney and two kids. Hood has come to town either for her or the payload of what they stole 15 years earlier. And this sleepy little Pennsylvania community with Amish milling about is not as innocent as it appears to be. There is a rather large organized crime ring headed by business savvy sociopath Kai Proctor, patiently played by Ulrich Thomsen.
The plot is interesting however it hinges on an incredible set of circumstances that are just too coincidental regarding the sheriff he has taken over for. Most shows can only go as far as its main actor does and Starr’s performance says it all. I’ll give him an A for effort but he is not natural leading man material. He knows how to grimace and wince and tough guy his way through a scene but its very paint by the numbers. And so is the show. All the typical beats are hit however there is no originality added. “Banshee” has the svelte star with a grizzled 5 o’clock shadow, muscle cars, rock ballad music and fights that make “Roadhouse” look like the Smurfs. I was actually surprised at the level of violence in this show and that it mostly came from the main protagonist. In the first episode alone Hood gets in multiple fights involving multiple people but he has the moves to take on four guys surrounding him. He doesn’t back down from fights and he’s the kind of guy that marches right into the barrel of a gun and antagonizes the person holding it. There are Robin Hood flavors to his demeanor however his moral compass is questionable at best. He has a loose cannon temper and a penchant for flashbacks resulting in him running confusedly in the woods. Hood also has the requisite computer guy, Job, played by affable Hoon Lee who can hack into anything and create identities but he is relegated to a minor role only popping up here and there.
With all that silliness aside, “Banshee” is a highly entertaining and well made show. There are some nicely directed scenes such as episode 4 in which some nice emotional weight is given the main characters involving their pasts together. For the action junkies out there, the show displays some incredibly brutal violence, especially in episode six entitled “Wicks”. There is plenty of gunplay, macho posturing and fisticuffs to keep diehards satiated. And then there’s the sex. There is a lot of Cinemax style explicit sex peppered throughout the show, some of it artsy, most of it gratuitous. In a nutshell “Banshee” is your basic male fantasy type show. The guy can kick ass, get all the chicks and pretty much do whatever he wants without too many repercussions aside from the occasional black eye or bloodied lip. It may sound like a strange comparison but “Banshee” reminded me of “Renegade” with Lorenzo Lamas just updated for modern day mentalities and thresholds. One last thing, when watching the episodes makes sure to stick around after the credits as there is always a short moment or scene that gives nice little details about some characters.
HBO/Cinemax presents “Banshee” in 480P using it’s OAR of 1.78:1. For being presented in standard DVD format the image looks very well detailed. Close-ups fare the best as do exterior shots. This is a darkly lit show which leans more towards greens and earth tones without too much color. Even the blood being thrown about looks more dark brown than red. This all is intended as it helps with the gritty feel of the show. It certainly could look better on Blu-ray however, it looks pretty darn good on DVD. The first and last discs have only two episodes on them while the middle two discs have three episodes each. Each show runs an average of 5 Mbps.
The main track is a Dolby Digital 5.1 offering. Although not lossless, the presentation is as close as you can get while still being lossy. Every punch cracks with life-like authenticity. The opening shootout shows off a wide soundstage utilizing every speaker. An early train passing through is a good sign of the bass. The rock interludes that accompany the action is accurate and engaging.
First up is a brief look into the “NYC Bus crash” scene and the effects work put into it. “Town of Secrets” is a mostly promotional look into the film. “Banshee Origins” is probably the meatiest extra as it clocks in at 30 minutes long and goes in-depth into the characters lives. “Zooming in: Episodes 7 &8” is a short look into the making of these two episodes. And there are various Deleted Scenes.
Usually a good sign of a series is if you care enough to find out what happens in the next season. To that I say…yeah, but only slightly. There is a 2nd season on it’s way soon. It’s unrealistic. It’s brainless. It’s snarky. It’s pulse-pounding. And it’s highly entertaining. For escapist, tough guy male fantasy fun it does just fine. The DVD looks and sounds great.