'Human Target' Preview: Season 2 Takes Aim at a Whole New Dynamic
by Laura Prudom, posted Nov 17th 2010 12:00PM
Fox's adrenaline-fueled drama 'Human Target' has made a habit of dodging bullets. The show's entertaining (but underwatched) first season garnered reasonable ratings and modest critical approval, but failed to set audiences alight in the way network execs were probably hoping for as their flagship action show '24' sailed into the sunset.
After a tense few months on the bubble, 'Human Target' was renewed, only to stare down the barrel of another ominous threat: a Friday night death slot, where even the most tenacious shows often fail to draw ratings, let alone improve on their established audience. But the death of 'Lone Star' and the subsequent shift of 'Lie To Me' to Monday night left a ripe spot on Wednesdays for the scrappy sophomore drama to plant its flag and make its mark.
TV Squad was among a group of journalists invited to the Vancouver set ahead of the season 2 premiere, and if what we saw is any indication, 'Human Target' is back with a vengeance, and it's taking no prisoners this time around. Find out why star Chi McBride described season 2 to us as "a grenade with the pin pulled out."
When a show is entering its second season, it might seem pretty intimidating for new viewers to try jumping on-board a moving train, but the cast of 'Human Target' insisted that latecomers will easily pick up the story if they decide to give the series a chance (no pun intended).
"We've got room for about five or six million of them, if they want -- the doors are open," star Mark Valley (who plays assassin-turned-bodyguard-for-hire, Christopher Chance) joked with reporters when we caught him between takes.
"The show's really cool this year, it's a different show; the first season is kind of like the pilot for this season, in a way. It's maintained its core and its spirit -- everything that made the show unique last year is still in it, plus upgrades."
Those upgrades come in the form of two new female characters, both portrayed by charming British actresses. Indira Varma ('Rome,' 'Torchwood') plays Ilsa Pucci, a rich philanthropist who becomes embroiled with Chance and his team (rounded out by Chi McBride as Winston and Jackie Earle Haley as Guerrero) when her husband is targeted in episode 201.
Janet Montgomery ('Entourage,' 'Black Swan') meanwhile, offers an entirely different kind of energy as Ames, a young thief with a penchant for running into trouble. Both characters offer a new perspective for the formerly male-dominated show, which, in its first season, saw most of its female guest stars relegated to being damsels in distress -- not so for Varma and Montgomery.
"Ilsa's character does come in in need of [Chance's] help, but she's an alpha female, and Ames definitely doesn't need their help in the way other women have," Varma was eager to point out. "They're not victims and they're not just sex objects to be desired, and that's really fun."
Clearly equally enamored with the direction her character was taking, Montgomery agreed with her co-star's assessment. "I think it just brings out a different side in the characters, in the sense that there's kind of a paternal thing with the guys taking me under their wing and making me leave behind the life I had before. And then with Ilsa, it's interesting to see how they have to answer to a woman," she laughed, speaking to the assembled journalists over breakfast alongside Varma and new showrunner Matt Miller, a former executive producer and writer on 'Chuck'.
"I think [the show] needed a female infusion, but it wasn't just a case of 'oh, we have to put some women in the show,'" explained Miller. "In order to make the show more ensemble, we needed new characters to expand the world, and it just happened to be two women. It was sort of like the most interesting thing might be to have someone who was in charge of this company in some way, someone who these guys -- who were running roughshod -- had to answer to."
"Boys on their own are pretty boring," Varma reasoned wryly. "They smell, they fight, they talk about sex, drugs and rock and roll. They need girls to tell them what to do ..."
While Ames is described by Haley as a cross between a "Chance Mini-Me" and a "Guerrero Mini-Me," Ilsa will serve as the team's new boss and benefactor, bankrolling their missions and giving the guys an authority figure to lock horns with, a position that apparently won't sit well with any of them ...
"Nobody just gives you their money and then doesn't stick their nose in every orifice of your situation," McBride sardonically observed, drawing comparisons between Varma's character and Valley's. "She's kind of stubborn and difficult, because she wants to be in the middle of everything -- she's a lot like Chance. There's going to be a lot of tension between those two as well."
That tension reportedly won't only extend to office politics -- Miller also hinted at a possible romance between Ilsa and Chance, but viewers shouldn't expect a speedy "wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am" payoff any time soon.
"Ilsa is supposed to be a woman who is not easily swayed romantically by him or his enormous amount of charm," the showrunner revealed. "So while there is a romantic underpinning to the whole thing, we're not trying to hit it on the nose just yet. We'd like it to be a bit of a slower burn that plays through the course of the season and beyond that."
Similarly, Valley seemed certain that there wouldn't be much time for love -- not while new group dynamic is providing such fertile ground for storytelling. "It feels like a bigger show; there's more directions that we can go because we have more characters," he said. "The stories seem to be coming from their personal interests: Winston has some unfinished business with a cop, and Ames gets involved with this gang [because of] one of her old friends that she really cares about, and Ilsa's husband is murdered in the initial episode -- the stakes are pretty high."
In the first three episodes of the season, we'll see each character struggling to figure out how to integrate into this new team; Chance, Winston and Guerrero are all decidedly anti-authority, while Ilsa's insistence on being part of the trio's day-to-day operations is certain to rub the guys the wrong way.
Ames, meanwhile, has a tumultuous history with Winston that instantly sets the former cop on edge, and the young thief seems simultaneously intimidated and inspired by Guerrero, immediately viewing the enigmatic ex-assassin as a role model, much to Guerrero's displeasure.
"Ames, for me, is who Chance and Guerrero were at that age," Miller mused, describing the character as a stray cat that just seems to stick around. "These two guys, by the time that this series has started, have been reformed -- Guerrero not as much -- but you've seen them come from a life of crime into some version of a commitment to be a good person. The Ames character is the one that you get to see go through the process and it's through a few episodes. She doesn't just jump in and say 'I'm a good guy.'"
With new characters and a new showrunner, it seems inarguable (and purposeful) that the show has undergone an overhaul, but we can safely confirm that in the case of 'Human Target,' change can be a good thing.
After losing track of the series after the first few episodes in season 1 failed to grip me, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the second season had increased the sense of urgency in its pacing, whilst concurrently managing to infuse the storylines with a healthy dose of levity and a compelling amount of character development. Contrary to my expectations, the female characters didn't feel shoehorned in for the sake of tokenism, each possessing their own agency and a unique skill-set to lend to the team. What results is a kooky cross between 'Leverage' and '24,' an action-comedy-thriller hybrid that's different from anything else on air right now.
During our time on set, it seemed evident that the actors -- old and new -- were equally invigorated by the show's evolution, each expressing an enthusiasm that would be hard to fake.
"I don't want to over-hype it, but [the first episode] is really pretty exceptional," McBride confidently informed us. "In interviews before the next season premieres, people always tell you, "This one's going to be bigger and better!" and then it ain't sh*t. But you're going to get an idea in the first 10 minutes of the first act that this is the amping up, a stakes-raising, game-changing kind of trajectory into the show."
We're inclined to believe him. But just in case Mark Valley's extra six million viewers are foolish enough not to show up for tonight's second season premiere, Haley had another foolproof marketing scheme in mind: "We're gonna start to air our episodes during the commercial breaks of 'Glee'. That's our plan."
If anyone can hit their target, it's these guys. Will you be watching?
The second season of 'Human Target' premieres tonight at 8PM ET on Fox. Check out Mo Ryan and Ryan McGee's interview with showrunner Matt Miller here, and check out Mo's preview of season 2 here.