Banshee — Killer TV No.38

2013-, Cinemax 

‘I’m not going back in [to jail].’ – Ex-con Lucas Hood
‘You got a revolutionary way of staying out of trouble.’ – Sugar Bates
Antony Starr, Ivana Miličević, Ulrich Thomsen, Frankie Faison, Hoon Lee, Rus Blackwell, Matt Servitto, Demetrius Grosse, Trieste Kelly Dunn
Identikit: After 15 years in prison, a thief travels to a town called Banshee in the Amish country of Pennsylvania. There, he steals the identity of Sheriff Lucas Hood and poses as the town’s lawman.

A car chase, a street shoot-out, casual back-room sex with a barmaid and a spectacular bus crash – and that’s all before the opening credits of the pilot episode. Banshee is a balls-to-the-wind, adrenaline spurt of a show, featuring wince-inducing violence, grindings of sex and a pulp storyline having a near narcotic effect in viewer dependency. An unnamed man gets out of jail after a brutal 15-year stretch for stealing diamonds. No sooner is he out than he is chased by Ukrainian gangsters under the orders of Mr Rabbit, the man he stole the gems from. He flees on a motorbike and goes to the town of Banshee to find his former lover and heist accomplice, Anastasia. Once there he assumes the identity of Lucas Hood, Banshee’s next sheriff who is killed in a bar brawl before he can take the job, and then he finds that Anastasia has no diamonds and is now a married mother with a new identity who wants nothing to do with him. ‘I don’t get the girl, I don’t get the money,’ he tells her. ‘I spent 15 years thinking about this day; this is not how I pictured it.’ From there, it’s a wild-eyed charge of confrontations with all manner of criminals in the town, as Hood plays sheriff and makes enemies as only a criminal could, while trying to win back Anastasia and stay clear of Rabbit and the Ukrainians. Over-the-top and credibility-stretching Banshee certainly is, but it is crammed with superb characters, tension and some wonderful writing from the creators David Schickler and Jonathan Tropper, who are both novelists and were commissioned to make Banshee when US cable network Cinemax was looking to expand its original programming (as HBO, FX and AMC had done). Ivana Miličević is moving as the bad girl turned mom who wants to resist Hood, and New Zealand actor Antony Starr is almost demented in his love for her. The gallery of wonderful characters includes Frankie Faison as the bartender Sugar Bates, Hood’s ally, Hoon Lee as Hood’s transvestite hacking accomplice, and the larger-than-life villains Kai Proctor, the local ‘businessman’ still hurting from his expulsion by his Amish family, and of course Rabbit, played with menacing relish by Ben Cross. The violence reaches Tom and Jerry levels, with Hood and even Anastasia having epic punch-ups that would kill normal folk five times over. The heightened reality of mega-violence and the sharp humour owe something to Quentin Tarantino, but as a TV drama Banshee is as fresh and breathtaking as a punch to the solar plexus. Watching it makes most of the costume fare and plodding crime dramas – certainly those we get in the UK – seem desperately safe and twee. Season two is currently showing on Sky Atlantic.

Classic episode: All 10 episodes are stormers, but some, like episode 6, Wicks, fills in the backstory of Hood or Anastasia – this time exploring Hood’s prison ordeal, where he has a bloodcurdling fight with the prison monster, a giant, muscle-bound Albino who wants to rape him.
Watercooler fact: Ivana Miličević was born in Sarajevo to a Croatian family, which immigrated to the US when she was five. She worked as a model and had guest parts in several TV shows (Charmed, Seinfeld, Nash Bridges, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and played the role of Valenka in Casino Royale.

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