I cannot exactly declare that “Blindspot,” which debuted last night on NBC, is a great show. But I will likely be watching it for a few weeks yet, and that’s more than I can say of any number of silly shows that premiered last night, including “Minority Report,” another season of the now two-time Emmy-winner “The Voice,” and the whopping ninth season of “The Big Bang Theory.” “Blindspot” is itself remarkably silly, too, but there is an element to it that vibrates at a more sophisticated pitch.
Primarily, that element is Jaimie Alexander, best known for playing Lady Sif in Marvel’s numerous “Avengers” and “Avengers”-adjacent films, including the upcoming “Thor: Ragnarok.” It’s not difficult to see why she is an excellent choice for film—she has striking features, including a pointed chin that is alternately set with determination, quivering with repressed emotion, or coquettishly dipping down to accent a smile. Alexander was name-dropped in Deadline this spring as a performer who was being highly sought after for television pilots, and whether or not that’s true, certainly in “Blindspot” she is earning her reputation. The drama suffers a bit from over-slickness in areas—major plot concerns are skated over with a smile and a wave—but Alexander is by turns affecting and awesome as Jane Doe, a character missing a past but endowed with a lot of tattoos.
The premise of “Blindspot” is that a woman is found in Times Square stuffed into a duffel bag—alive, but without her memory. She’s also freshly covered in tattoos that include the name of an FBI agent. This being Hollywood’s fantasy of national security, she’s immediately whisked to a high-tech and fantastically staffed FBI headquarters, where she is thoroughly processed—using some technology that exists, some that doesn’t, and overall entirely violates some standard or other of civil liberties. In last night’s pilot, a string of Chinese characters tattooed behind her ear led her and her FBI handlers to an apartment in Chinatown where a man was planning to detonate a bomb. Just in case this weren’t dramatic enough—the bomb is set to go off in the crown of the Statue of Liberty. Along the way, Jane discovers she has all kinds of talents, sort of like a superhero imbued with powers for the first time: Chinese, kickboxing, marksmanship, and a worrying ability to keep going after a bullet is lodged in her arm.
It’s a lot of unwieldy plot points—borrowing indiscriminately from “Alias,” “National Treasure,” and “John Doe.” What keeps it together is Alexander’s performance. It’s an extremely physical role, given that the plot is her body; with that touch of the specific exploitation of the female body that recalls “La Femme Nikita” and “Orphan Black.” Like the heroes of those shows—and many others before it—Jane’s body is both a burden and her only asset. Alexander is more than talented enough, both with stunts and pathos, to sell that narrative arc.
“Blindspot”’s only problem, right now, is that it wastes any time on Sullivan Stapleton’s Kurt Weller—the FBI agent whose name is tattooed on Jane’s back. It would take a real novice in the ways of Hollywood love to not expect a slow-burn romance between Jane and Kurt, a stubbly FBI veteran whose primary character traits are “tough,” “good,” and also did I mention “tough?” Stapleton is reportedly good in other things, but in “Blindspot” he and Alexander have so little chemistry they appear to be acting in different television shows. I imagine there’s an audience that Stapleton tests well with, and that’s why he was brought aboard—certainly he’s a convincing tough and good and tough guy, what with digging a chunk of C4 off of a ticking bomb and then chucking it down a subway tunnel. But “Blindspot” has to be careful not to eclipse Alexander, who is the real star here, with the all-too-available tropes of the most masculine, goodest-ever guy. Case in point: In several different scenes last night, Kurt attempts to stop Jane from solving the mystery of her own life. He’s always wrong, thankfully, but it raises the question of why we must spend any time with him at all.
Fortunately, Alexander is buttressed by the rather different talents of Marianne Jean-Baptiste (“Without A Trace”), who is the head of this fantastical FBI division, and Ashley Johnson (“The Avengers”), who is one of Jane’s white-coat clad handlers. This fall it doesn’t seem like anything much is very good, but “Blindspot” has a bit of a spark. Whether it manages to alight into something worth watching is another question entirely.
Check out the rest of my fall TV preview here.