It’s often up to the fates and the Gods of scheduling as to which shows seem to take off and which don’t, but one show that seems to be flying under the radar – at least here in the UK – is the excellent Cinemax show Banshee. This story of an ex-con who ends up posing as sheriff in the small town where his ex-girlfriend is in hiding is really worth checking out. Originally shown on Sky Atlantic, it’s now coming to the end of a rerun on Sky 1. But fear not if you missed it – Season 1 has just been released on DVD. So here’s why I think Banshee should be your New favourite Show.
Behind the scenes pedigree
With a creative team that includes executive producer Alan Ball (True Blood, American Beauty, Six Feet Under) and co-creator Jonathan Tropper (best-selling novelist) it’s hardly surprising that this show is classy, tautly written and gripping – think a slightly more brutal version of Justified. And while Anthony Starr’s ex-con turned lawman doesn’t quite have Raylan Givens’ swagger, he has a more tortured backstory and a vulnerability that Olyphant’s character only hints at.
Complex, interesting characters
Moral ambiguity is nothing new in today’s TV but while Banshee isn’t short on full-on evil bad guys (and boy, are they evil), the rest of its characters are more morally conflicted, which tends to add a nice layer of unpredictability to their actions – it’s never clear which way people are going to jump.
Pretty much all of the central characters are handy with their fists (and feet, and guns, and nearby sharp or heavy objects). Banshee doesn’t skimp on the violence, though the fact that much of it does get meted out to those sorely deserving their comeuppance does add a guilty thrill to some of the nastier fight scenes. Series one features someone having their teeth knocked out, a castration, and a knockdown, drag ‘em out fight that lasts almost a whole episode (made all the more remarkable by the fact that one of the combatants was a woman – Ivana Milicevic’s Carrie in an absolutely punishing performance, and possibly the most violent fight I’ve seen since the eye gouging scrap in Deadwood). It’s not a show for the timid, but it is certainly compelling.
Grown up sexy
It’s common for cable shows to stick in as much nudity as they can, simply BECAUSE they can, but while Banshee features its fair share of naked ladies, it also offers a nuanced and convincing look at sex that rarely feels gratuitous. Extra props for showing women genuinely enjoying themselves in bed: it says much about modern sex on TV that in the episode featuring the aforementioned tooth-smashing, I was actually more shocked to see a scene where a woman receives oral sex from her husband…
The town of Banshee is set between a Native American reservation and an Amish community, and the show uses racial and religious conflict to interesting effect. It also has a pleasingly diverse cast; the women are well written and never feel like set decoration, there’s a decent racial mix in the leads, and the show is unusual in having a trans character whose gender identity is treated as a casual fact, not a storyline; Hoon Lee is a delight as the foul-mouthed, short tempered computer expert Job.
The show has an arc, so it’s probably not one to dip in to, and it starts off at a slow burn. But if you like grown up telly and aren’t afraid of a healthy dose of sex and nudity, you might just have found your next boxed set binge.