Sly and fast-paced, Human Target is, at its best, a swift adventure series about Christopher Chance (Mark Valley, from Fringe and Boston Legal), a private security agent hired to protect an array of clients. Based on a comic book, Human Target has a cartoonish exaggeration. In the premiere, for example, Chance calculates within seconds precisely when and how far he needs to leap from a speeding bullet train to an uncoupled car. And he just happens to speak Japanese flawlessly when he and a client he’s squiring (Tricia Helfer) run into some bigwigs at a party.
Is this a complaint? It is not. All-seeing, all-knowing is how we like our almost superheroes — or, at least, some of us do. Target combines daredevil tactics with a deadpan sense of humor that reminded me of both a previous Human Target starring Rick Springfield (1992) and the ’90s cult item The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. — both ratings failures. Valley had an earlier shot at stardom as the title character on the underwatched 2003 series Keen Eddie, and I fear TV audiences don’t buy him as the lead in a series: Handsome in a granite-jawed way, he doesn’t radiate much heat from his small, piercing eyes.
I hope I’m all wrong in my misgivings, because Target is a helluva lot of fun. Valley delivers punchlines as well as he does elbows to the faces of villains. In the second episode, Target manages to keep aloft an almost ridiculously complicated premise about Chance on a commercial airliner that’s on fire, and that contains at least one assassin. This requires Chance to learn how the plane works and then fly it upside down. All while locating his target: a programmer with ”the skeleton key to the Internet, the end of information security as we know it.” And Target pulls it off, also making a hero of the U.S. air marshal who’s aboard (wise thinking in these dangerous times).
It may make Pushing Daisies fans a little sad to see Chi McBride here in a similar supporting role — he helps procure clients for Chance and aids him in solving mysteries. But McBride’s Winston isn’t as well-written as Daisies’ Emerson Cod was. On Target, he mostly does a slow burn while Chance takes chances Winston wishes he wouldn’t. Better used is Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen) as ultrahacker Guerrero, a dry wisecracker.
Fox doesn’t have a great track record for helping comic adventure stories break through (see: Brisco County). But Target does have one big thing going for it: American Idol as its lead-in. The question is, will viewers who want to hear amateurs ululate stick around to watch professionals perform amazing stunts and funny jokes? Citizens, make Christopher Chance your next American idol? B+