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Review: In Cinemax's 'Banshee,' there's little justice to be found

An ex-con with an assumed identity becomes the sheriff of a small town in 'Banshee,' a violent Cinemax drama that doesn't have anything new to offer.

January 11, 2013|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Anthony Starr stars in "Banshee."
Anthony Starr stars in "Banshee." (Fred Norris / HBO/Cinemax )

There's a new sheriff in town, only he isn't really a sheriff, he's a recently released ex-con fully rigged with antihero requisites, including killer instincts and his own twisty-but-true moral code.

It isn't really a town either so much as a place constructed in a pitch meeting, where a seemingly idyllic community (in this case Pennsylvania Dutch adjacent) is controlled by a man so blasphemous he has a crucifix tattooed on his back, so evil he feeds his dog human flesh.

Welcome to Cinemax's "Banshee," population: Whatever it takes to keep this absurd storyline rolling.

In the beginning, Antony Starr plays a man so manly he has no name. Released from prison, he simply steps into the overwhelming soundtrack and strolls along the nearest railroad tracks to the nearest town, where he enjoys a store-room hook-up with a comely bartender and steals a car.

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Before you can say "Um, don't you have a parole officer you need to contact?" he's in Manhattan, smashing up the computer screens of his so-cool-he-cross-dresses buddy Job (Hoon Lee) in an effort to get the current address of Anna, his former flame. Who now lives, surprise, surprise, in Banshee, Pa.

So after a ridiculously violent gunfight up and down the streets of New York — this particular ex-con has apparently angered a mobster in some way — Our Hero jacks another ride (motorcycle this time). A quick trip into town reveals that Anna is now Carrie Hopewell (Ivana Milicevic), wife of the town's prosecuting attorney, who, as luck would have it, has just lost yet another attempt to ensnare local super-bad baddie, Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen).

Our Hero soon finds himself chatting away with a Banshee bartender and former boxing champ Sugar (Frankie Faison) and Lucas Hood, the brand new sheriff, who has stopped by before introducing himself to his new bosses. When a couple of Proctor's toughs try to rob the joint, our man kills them, but not before they kill the sheriff.

It's only natural then that as he's helping Sugar dispose of the bodies, Our Hero should decide to assume the sheriff's identity, becoming Lucas Hood, Banshee lawman.

Kind of like "Les Miz," but without the singing.

Actually "Banshee" — created by Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler and executive produced by Alan Ball originally for HBO — has elements of "Justified," "Big Love," Ball's "True Blood" and, of course, the film "Witness." What it doesn't have, at least in the first two episodes, is anything new to say, about small towns, power, corruption, fear, crime or love.

In many ways, "Banshee" is simply an old-fashioned western, a tricked out and highly cynical version of "Shane," in which the knowledge of the violent hearts of men and the ability to match that violence, creates not just its own morality but the only sort of morality that can get the job done.

Gone is our hope in true blue justice — from law enforcement, litigation, journalism, whistle-blowing, community organizing or even karma. "Banshee," like so many other shows before it, insists that the only way to fight crime is with slightly nicer, and better-looking, criminals.

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'Banshee'

Where: Cinemax

When: 10 p.m. Friday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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