HBO has been sitting high on the hog for the past few years, snapping up Emmy Awards, Golden Globes and assorted critics’ kudos for shows like “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Six Feet Under,” “True Blood,” “Game of Thrones” and “Girls.” But cross-cable rival Showtime has come out swinging lately, nabbing a bunch of gilt-covered praise for its lineup of original series, including the much-lauded “Nurse Jackie” and “Homeland.” Now Cinemax is trying to horn in on the original series sweepstakes with its new attention-grabbing series—the sexy, pulpy, R-rated guilty pleasure “Banshee.”
The show is executive-produced by Alan Ball (the man behind “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood”), which gives us a pretty good indication Cinemax is trying its best to steal HBO’s thunder. Despite its title, “Banshee” contains no supernatural elements. Instead, it centers around a dangerous but hunky thief (Antony Starr, a bloke so damn manly and stubble-faced he’s got to be from Australia. Checking imdb.com … Born in New Zealand. Close enough). Getting out of jail after a 15-year stint, our man heads out in search of his old lover and partner (Ivana Milicevic) with whom he stole $10 million worth of diamonds. He finds her hiding out in rural Pennsylvania with a new identity, a husband, two kids and no diamonds. Not only did she lose the $10 million in loot, but the Russian mob, from whom the diamonds were stolen, is hot on both their heels. (You’d think the Russians could have just killed him in prison, but whatever.)
Our bad boy anti-hero does the only logical thing he can and steals the identity of the new county sheriff. No one around these parts has actually met the lawman, and he was just killed in a freaky roadhouse shootout, and our ex-con has got his badge, so … (Yeah, it’s a pretty contrived setup, but we’re just gonna go with it here.) Less than a week out of jail and our protagonist is posing as Sheriff Lucas Hood of tiny Banshee, Pennsylvania.
Did I mention this is Amish country? Yeah, TV’s hottest religious subsect (“Amish in the City,” “Breaking Amish,” “Amish Mafia”) has got another show to brag about. Also, for being a small town, Banshee seems awfully rife with organized crime, thanks to local, ex-Amish crimelord Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen). Plus, there’s those angry Russian mobsters to deal with.
“Banshee” doesn’t hold anything back. It’s super violent and filled with kinky sex. This is cable, after all. The show is so dark and weird and creepy, you half expect vampires or serial killers to pop up at any moment. So far though, no. Just a fake sheriff battling Amish gangsters and trying to hook up with his ex-girlfriend. Strip away the unusual setting, the pumped-up action, the free-flowing blood, the naked flesh and the amoral hero, and “Banshee” is a familiar crime-fighting series—think “Justified” with a TV-MA warning. The show won’t win any awards, but if you can weather the plot holes and the clichéd characters, “Banshee” should offer you some solid sex-and-violence viewing on premium cable.