XIII Series Premiere Review

Reelz tries its hand at a regular series by running the Franco-Canadian-made XIII, which premiered this weekend. A top agent known as XIII (Stuart Townsend, Night Stalker), a name tattooed on his body, is ensconced in an Eastern European prison. He is broken out, he soon discovers, by the former president of the United States, who would like a memory chip that XIII hid away in a safety deposit box. The current president is also involved, behaving as a friend to XIII, but putting country first. However, XIII isn’t one to play nice, either, especially when he isn’t sure who to trust, and people are trying to kill him.

XIII is a continuation of a 2008 miniseries, which originally aired on NBC in the United States. Those who are unfamiliar with this miniseries will probably find themselves a bit lost. XIII is about a conspiracy and a mystery, with the main character not sure what his previous life is, and a power game at the highest levels of government. It’s kind of hard to unfurl a story like this when the first couple hours of clues are missing. As someone who did not see the miniseries, it felt like I jumped in halfway through a novel, and the show was not accessible.

However, even as the pieces begin to fall into place, and viewers catch up with what’s going on, sort of, it’s still not an easy show to get into. The former president got XIII out of jail, but for what purpose, really? What are his motivations? What are XIII’s goals, given that he is sort of hanging around, following some orders, arguing others, but not really stating any purpose? Is he trying to stop the bad guys, whoever they may be? Doesn’t he want to discover his own forgotten past, which he shows signs of doing, but doesn’t commit to? These characters just aren’t defined very well, and neither are any of the other supporting players. It’s one think to have shady individuals who keep an audience guessing, but this isn’t that. These are just confusing, often contradictory, roles.

The dialogue isn’t any better. XIII and the people he encounters ask the most predictable questions. For instance, waking up in the hospital bed, XIII has an exchange about asking questions, which seems trite and pat, also not making much sense in context. And the sequence of actions don’t quite line up, with an unnecessary fight scene that accomplishes nothing.

Another obvious screw up is how easily XIII gets into the White House. Are viewers really expected to believe that, with all of the cameras and agents, he can sneak around like this? And that he knows only Jones (Aisha Tyler, Archer) will find him? Her discovery is mentioned almost as a joke, but it actually serves to better draw attention to a glaring misstep. Yes, XIII is more clever than the average spy, but this just stretches believability too far, making the writers seem lazy for not developing a plausible break in scheme. Time is limited on a series, but certain things cannot just be glazed over without pulling viewers out of the story.

Much of the cast of this XIII is different than the miniseries. XIII himself is explained away when he reveals he changed his face, since the last one became a liability. This works, and is one of the few things the hour gets right. But why does Jones look different? Why would the show offer a reason for one character’s different look, but not others?

XIII is, overall, much like a Bourne movie. Confusing plot, conspiracies that seem a bit half-baked, characters who don’t always act in their own self-interests when they should, and a jumpy directional style designed to accommodate action bits and fight sequences, including those packed in gratuitously. It’s a specific type of show that will appeal to a specific type of viewer. But good quality television, it is not.

XIII airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on Reelz.