“Human Target,” funny, thrilling, sometimes original

Steven Nalley

I’m as happy as anyone else that J.J. Abrams succeeded at both making viewers happy and making viewers think with “Lost.” Thanks to him, intelligence on television isn’t quite as rare as it used to be.

But I also think that shows all about martial arts, explosions and special effects will never quite lose their place on television. So it doesn’t bother me that Fox has now come out with what I might describe as the Anti-“Lost.”

“Human Target” is, first and foremost, a heavy dose of adrenaline and spectacle. That leaves it prone to a few action clichés, but it balances these with a little innovation and the funniest action protagonist I’ve seen in a few years.

Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) is a private security agent who specializes in drawing out assassins who come after his clients by fooling them into thinking his clients are unprotected. When the assassin shows up, Chance subdues the assassin and saves the client at any cost, even if it means throwing himself in harm’s way.

Chance is the latest in a long line of action heroes who tend to cause more collateral damage than they prevent, so he has a boss, Winston (Chi McBride) to rein him in and occasionally help him on a mission. Both of them also know a former member of the criminal underground, Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley), who uncovers the big bosses behind the show’s assassins.

Valley acts like a snarky hero with a death wish, something Fox apparently thinks is original enough to carry the series to the top of the Nielsen ratings. It is not. I was reminded of Mel Gibson’s character in “Lethal Weapon” and of Malcolm Reynolds from “Firefly.”

Valley plays the role ably, even though he comes off a little fake when he starts trying to convince villains to turn over new leaves. The premium he places on human lives could make for interesting character development in future episodes.

What makes Chance and his humor work is the way his ingenuity creates unique action set pieces. For example, I’ve seen more than my fair share of fistfights, and I’ve seen a few escapes through air ducts, but I’ve never seen a fistfight set in an air duct.

And just wait until you see “Human Target’s” hilarious twist on a knife fight in tonight’s episode.

The action clichés seem to come in where the setting is concerned. Sunday’s episode was set on a train, and tonight’s is set on a plane.

Tonight’s episode seems to address that concern with a surprise I won’t spoil, however.

It also makes me interested to see where Fox plans to take the show next.

I’m evaluating “Human Target” based primarily on its action because that seems to have the best chance of making this show memorable and successful. Most of the rest of it has been seen before, but when it comes to pure spectacle, does that really matter?

2.5 out of four