It’s increasingly clear the key difference between network and cable dramas is realism and specificity.
Cable dramas are more likely to get little details right; network dramas often fail this test, rendering them pale imitations of their cable brethren.
Not every broadcast drama attempts the realism of a cable show — NCIS, Castle, and the like are character-driven procedurals that are just for fun — and at least one broadcast series, CBS’s The Good Wife, consistently succeeds in creating characters and situations that feel real.
But NBC’s latest, Crisis (10 p.m. Sunday), does not. It’s a serialized drama that wants to be taken seriously, but it’s just not good enough in a Breaking Bad/Walking Dead TV landscape.
Crisis marks the second hostage drama of the 2013-14 TV season, and it’s marginally more engrossing / less ridiculous in its pilot than CBS’s fall flop, Hostages.
A field trip to New York for the children of Washington power brokers goes horribly awry when the whole busload is kidnapped.
Drones are scrambled to track down the missing kids, and FBI agent Susie Dunn (Rachael Taylor) leads the investigation, which turns out to be personal because her estranged sister, CEO Meg Fitch (Gillian Anderson), has a daughter on the bus, class president Amber (Halston Sage).
This is where Crisis begins to flunk the realism smell test. Would the FBI really allow the aunt of a kidnap victim to lead an investigation into her kidnapping? (It gets worse when some familial revelations come to light later in the premiere.)
In addition, the U.S. president’s son is on the bus, but there are no Secret Service agents aboard; they’re in vehicles ahead of and behind the bus. And for one agent, it’s his first day on the job (of course!).
The field trip appears to have only two chaperones — a teacher (James Lafferty, One Tree Hill) and the estranged father (Dermot Mulroney) of one of the few students who is not wealthy, Beth Ann (Stevie Lynn Jones).
One of the rich kids refers to Beth Ann as “Food Stamp,” an unlikely attempt at a dig from a teenager.
Written by Rand Ravich (Life) and directed by Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games), the Crisis pilot moves at a brisk pace and does a decent job introducing its large, unwieldy cast of characters.
Like in Hostages, the reason for the kidnapping remains unclear through the first two episodes, although there are hints that it has something to do with the lead kidnapper being framed for a secret government operation that went bad.
There’s certainly a crisis in prime time for broadcast network dramas, but Crisis is emblematic of the problem, not a solution.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen is a staff writer for the Post-Gazette.