Legends Cast TNT Morris Chesnut Sean Bean Ali Larter
Morris Chesnut, Sean Bean and Ali Larter | LEGENDS

TNT’s newest drama is LEGENDS, premiering this week. Rather than some epic tale rooted in mythology, as one might guess from the title, LEGENDS refers to the secret identities that deep cover spies have. It is based on a book by Robert Littell. A premise like this should still lend itself well to a large, serial story, in my opinion, but LEGENDS goes in the opposite direction, basically making a case-of-the-week show, or so it seems from the pilot, squandering both an interesting setup and an excellent cast.

At the forefront of LEGENDS is Sean Bean (Game of Thrones) as Martin Odum. Martin is one of those people who gets super intense about his mission, supremely focused on his goals, ignoring rules that might get in his way and a family, including a son (Mason Cook, The Lone Ranger), that could humanize him. This is a very familiar type of protagonist to TV viewers, as it seems that any character that carries a show cannot be average in any way.

In the pilot, Martin is approached by a mysterious man who tells him that the Martin persona is yet another Legend, and the real man is buried deep within by a shady part of the government. This is intriguing, of course, making viewers question both the truth in what we’re seeing and Martin’s mental stability. I could easily see a show or season-long story being focused on this, but the pilot barely glances across it, seemingly destined to be developed in tiny pieces, rather than played up as it should be.

Besides Bean, many other talented people are wasted on this project. Martin’s co-workers are played by the likes of Tina Majorino (Grey’s Anatomy, Veronica Mars), Steve Harris (The Practice, Justified), Morris Chestnut (Nurse Jackie, V), and Ali Larter (Heroes, Resident Evil). None of the characters they play really stand out in episode one. They’re mostly there to alternately back Martin up and get in his way, making up a very standard ensemble for such a show.

What is really troubling is that Bean’s characters inevitably die in just about every project he’s involved in. Because the rest of the characters are so under-developed, LEGENDS as it currently is would not work without its star,

There really isn’t much about LEGENDS that is original or impressive. The acting is top notch, to be sure, but the writing is not. There are hokey situations such as when Larter’s character has to pose as a stripper at the last minute, ostensibly to slyly get to Martin past the bad guys, but in reality, probably just to show off some of Larter’s skin to the viewers, who tend to like a little sex with their action. But it seems designed to be the equivalent of a popcorn flick, sort of like a crime-genre Falling Skies, rather than make an impact on the television landscape or win any awards.

In comparison to other procedurals, LEGENDS holds up well enough. The production looks good and there are no obvious problems. As I said, it copies the structure of other projects quite copiously, but so does everyone else, which is how we end up with so many versions of what is basically the same show all on the air at the same time. It’s not that there’s anything glaringly wrong with LEGENDS or the peers it borrows from. They just aren’t anything special either.

One wonders if we’ve reached a tipping point for this kind of show. Many of the procedurals currently running have either started to skew more serial or incorporate serial elements into their format. However, as long as Bones, NCIS, and others like them rule the airwaves and get the biggest ratings, I don’t see simple escapism entertainment going anywhere any time soon. That is disappointing to the critics, who watch a lot of TV and quickly tire of this junk food-like product, but maybe not to the casual viewer, relaxing with a favorite they stumbled upon and like to check back in with.

LEGENDS premieres this Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.