The FBI’s Most Wanted criminal walks into the bureau’s headquarters, surrenders and offers to help them fight crime. The catch? There’s only one agent he’ll speak to.
So begins NBC’s anticipated new fall drama, “The Blacklist,” which premiered last night.
The pilot sees James Spader following his recent stint on “The Office” with a return to his dramatic roots as he takes on the role of Raymond “Red” Reddington. Red formerly worked as a government agent who turned career criminal, and is now offering his skills to help hunt down a “blacklist” of mobsters, spies and international terrorists.
Playing opposite Spader is Megan Boone, whose character Elizabeth “Liz” Keen is that one agent and is about to begin the first day of her new job as an FBI profiler. Making Red’s request for her even more puzzling is that Liz has never met the man.
As expected, the mystery surrounding this relationship forms one of the cornerstones of the series. However, in a conference call with WSN, co-executive producer John Eisendrath promised that viewers won’t have to wait long for answers.
“I think like any great series question, the audience deserves periodic answers along the way,” Eisendrath said. “We have no interest in just letting that question go unanswered. It’s foremost in obviously Liz’s mind. We’re going to give answers early on and throughout the first season.”
For Boone, the mystery helps her in her portrayal of Liz.
“I’ve kind of stayed in the dark about what it is he wants from me and I discover it through the scene work with James Spader,” Boone said. “I’m always trying to read him through his performance, and my response to him has always grown out of that ultimate overriding question of what it is he wants form me.”
Some viewers may find this relationship similar to that of super-spy Sydney Bristow and her morally challenged boss Arvin Sloane on “Alias,” one of Eisendrath’s previous series. While he acknowledged the similarities, he stated that the characters in “The Blacklist” exist in a much more grounded reality.
One way this realism comes through is in the show’s procedural nature. Each new episode will feature Red and Liz tracking down another member of this “blacklist.”
Boone said she sees this format as a way to keep the show fresh and interesting.
“One of the really interesting things about the villains is they sort of dictate the genre and tone of each episode,” Boone explained.
With Spader at its center and a procedural element driving it — with a few twists along the way — “The Blacklist” seems poised to become one of the more intriguing shows of the season.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 24 print edition. Nivea Serrao is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]