Ellen Gray: Fox's 'Human Target' flies under the radar

Mark Valley (second from left) fights the bad guys with Indira Varma (left), Jackie Earle Haley and Chi McBride.
Mark Valley (second from left) fights the bad guys with Indira Varma (left), Jackie Earle Haley and Chi McBride.
Posted: November 17, 2010

HUMAN TARGET. 8 tonight, Channel 29.

SOME OF US think there's nothing worth watching on TV these days.

Some of us think there's simply too much.

I know I'm one of the latter because I managed to lose track of Fox's entertaining "Human Target" several episodes into its first season last winter and never really got it back on my radar.

And I wasn't alone: Nearly 3 million viewers who'd seen the show's January premiere were missing by its mid-April finale, according to the Nielsens.

But as "Human Target" returns tonight, all might as well be forgiven, since even those who've never seen a minute of the adventures of Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) should be up to speed by the end of the episode, which resolves its Season 1 cliff-hanger in short order and quickly moves on.

To Nepal. And then back.

Speed's still an important element of "Target," which is based, apparently pretty loosely, on a DC Comics character, and stars Valley as a former assassin who's now in the business of protecting people from the likes of his former self, with the help of a former police detective known as Winston (Chi McBride) and another ex-hit man (and torture specialist) named Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley).

The action scenes remain strikingly choreographed - after next week's episode, you may never look at a parking garage exit ramp the same way again - and the bad guys continue to be very, very bad and the good guys, er, conflicted.

And, yes, I'm guessing there's a lot more backstory that I missed in Season 1 (Wikipedia hits some of the high points for those who really need to know more), but everything important seemed to be handled on the run in the three new episodes I screened.

Did I mention that there's a lot of running? And a considerable amount of shooting?

Behind the scenes, Matt Miller, who last worked as an executive producer on NBC's "Chuck," another action show with a light touch, has been brought in as showrunner. (Season 1 showrunner Jonathan E. Steinberg, of Melrose Park, who developed the show, reportedly stays on as an executive producer.)

On-screen, Season 2 ups the estrogen with the addition of Indira Varma ("Luther," "Rome") and Janet Montgomery ("Entourage") as regulars.

Varma, who between this and BBC America's "Luther" is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actresses, plays Ilsa Pucci, the widow of a slain billionaire. She's in need of Chance's peculiar brand of protection - he likes to employ his clients as bait - but since she's used to giving orders, not taking them, she's not exactly a typical damsel in distress.

Montgomery's character, Ames, an accomplished thief, might easily have been plucked from the team on TNT's "Leverage," but she does give Guerrero someone new to grumble at.

I can't promise I'll make it to the end of Season 2 with Chance and company (my DVR bears witness to the fact that my eyes are, well, bigger than my eyes), but at least I'll know where "Target" is.

Fox, which originally planned to move the show to Fridays this season, had a change of heart after canceling "Lone Star" and needing "Lie to Me" to fill its spot on Mondays.

"We dodged a bullet," wrote Miller in a recent letter to TV critics.

He wasn't kidding - given the ratings that another highly adrenalized Fox show, "The Good Guys," has been reduced to on Fridays this fall, protecting "Human Target" there might have been a job too big for even Christopher Chance. *

Send e-mail to graye@phillynews.com.

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