Stop me if you've heard this one before: FOX's Human Target is on death watch, and it needs the viewing public to save it.
Yes, the Mark Valley-led action series is in pretty much the same position it was this time last year. I still remember the waiting, the worrying, the rumors that the network was going to choose between Target and Lie To Me. It wasn't a pretty sight, and I knew that we were lucky to see a second season. Yet even after an overhaul both behind and in front of the camera, we're still back in the same tough position.
And I'm still of the belief that this show needs to be saved.
Several of the difficulties Human Target encountered this season were through no fault of its own. This show has been bounced around the FOX schedule more than a ball in a game of Plinko. The show saw its season delayed at least twice, and its time slot moved from Wednesdays to Fridays and back again, before it even returned to the air. Once it was on, it suffered repeatedly from last-minute shifts that left its audience struggling to find it. While a preemption for a Presidential speech was certainly understandable, it was frustrating to see the season's final two episodes unceremoniously pushed back an hour to make room for American Idol. The final three episodes of season two all aired out of the show's regular time slot - shuffling it when it needed its regular audience the most.
Speaking of the reality juggernaut known as Idol, it did the show no favors. First, it preempted Target for its two-hour premiere, before pushing the show back to the Wednesday at 9 PM slot. The singing competition may be seen as a huge lead-in for some shows, but its audience wasn't exactly compatible with Target. The people who tuned in to watch Jennifer Lopez are not, by and large, the same ones who would be interested in gunplay and high adventure. It's not Human Target's fault that it didn't retain a large part of its lead-in audience when it wasn't a compatible audience to begin with.
And while the massive changes may have been helpful, and perhaps even mandated, the issue's a double-edged sword; there's also the possibility of alienating old viewers and confusing new ones who have no idea what's going on with a show that they didn't get the first time around. So many changes happened for Human Target that it was practically like launching a whole new series.
All three things have nothing to do with the actual quality of the series itself. And about that...
There's no other show that feels like Human Target currently on television. In the midst of all the genre shows we can expect every year, I've delighted in this one because it's a practical love letter to the action movies of my youth. It's a unique mix of unapologetic action, smart humor, and damn good acting. I can find bits and pieces of that formula scattered across other series, but I'm not going to find another that calls to mind the Lethal Weapons, the Die Hards, those big-screen thrill rides of the 80's and early 90's.
The show also boasts what I feel is a criminally underrated core threesome. It all starts with Mark Valley, who had me convinced that he needed to be a leading man since Keen Eddie (ironically, also for FOX). He paid his dues on Boston Legal and he's finally gotten his big break with Human Target, which has let him showcase everything that he can do and then some, whether Chance is speaking fluent Japanese (in the pilot) or hanging off a helicopter (in this season's "A Problem Like Maria"). I'm biased as I've been a fan of his for years, but that only makes me so much more grateful that he's gotten such a great role, so that everyone else can see what I see.
He's more than ably backed up by Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley. I'll be honest, I had no idea that the principal from Boston Public could be so funny. As the straight man of the bunch, McBride actually seems to do more with less dialogue. Give him two words and he'll make them hilarious without even trying. Yet as cynical ex-cop Laverne Winston, he's equally believable with a gun in his hand. And I don't think I have words strong enough to talk about how awesome Haley is as the enigmatic freelance operative (and yet family man!) Guerrero; he basically steals every scene he walks into with a well-placed "dude" or suddenly appearing weapon and/or hostage. Although he's not physically imposing, Haley is such a great actor that you absolutely believe Guerrero is to be feared - which, of course, only makes us love him more. These are unique characters that don't fit any stereotype or expectation, and it's hard to find those on TV these days.
Valley, McBride and Haley have an amazing chemistry that works well for witty repartee but also clearly conveys that these three characters go back for years and are loyal to one another. Having had the chance to interview them myself, I can say that they're not acting that part. They honestly have fun together and work well as a team, and we're lucky enough to see that on screen. I would never have imagined them in these roles, but nobody else would ever fit the bill now in my opinion. It would be criminal to disband this uniquely perfect trio.
There's still plenty of story out there, too. We know that Guerrero has a family, but we've never met them. Cold Case star Tracie Thoms was booked for a supposedly recurring role as Winston's ex-wife, but her one appearance barely scratched the surface of that relationship; I want to know more about that. Have Winston and Guerrero finally learned to tolerate each other? Whatever happened with the all-important book that was the focal point of the first-season finale and part of the second-season premiere? Are we ever going to see Chance's former boss (Armand Assante) again, or learn his real name? Is he finally going to move shop now that the warehouse has been broken into twice in two season finales? These characters still have plenty of questions surrounding them.
There is always room for more of the series' amazing, Emmy-nominated stunt sequences, which are simply unmatched. If nothing else, I literally get a jump in my pulse and an adrenaline rush every week. Showrunner Matt Miller said it best: "It literally looks like a movie." It's certainly worthy of the character; I've been a fan of the comic book character since I was a kid, and it's the most faithful adaptation I could ask for.
Great acting: check. Plot possibilities galore: check. Awe-inducing action: check.
I'm not privy to the thought process of the FOX executives, but I have to believe that they saw something in Human Target that they liked to rescue it a season ago. I'm sure they've seen how the series has gotten more attention and even some better reviews in the interim. I can only hope that they see that everyone involved has pretty much bent over backwards to deliver a series that satisfies the network's expectations and those of a wider audience, even in spite of the occasional difficulty beyond their control. Whether or not you agree with all the changes that took place (and I didn't always), the Human Target team obviously has done everything they could to save their series.
Now it's up to us to be willing to do the same.
I can't control the network executives, and I can't change the ratings, but I can speak up and say what I believe to be true: Human Target deserves a third season. And I'm proud to stand up for it and everyone involved in it, every step of the way. It's worth fighting for.