There's a kid treated like a dirty bomb in this premiere episode, so yes -- Blacklist, for all its formulaic qualities, manages to hit the right entertainment notes and deliver 42 minutes of almost light-hearted procedural. Not everything needs to (or can be) Breaking Bad. Sometimes it's enough to team a sly old criminal with a babe FBI Special Agent and watch them catch bad guys.
James Spader plays Raymond "Red" Reddington, a popular/notorious criminal who at the start of the episode...turns himself into the FBI. But there's one condition to his surrender -- that he be allowed to help find other characters living a life of crime. It's a solid premise for the show, and one that affords it the ability to tell a different, self-contained story each week...within the narrative structure of a larger world.
Spader and his would-be handler, FBI Agent Keen (Megan Boone), each bring an idiosyncratic reading to their character that helps them rise above the genre. Let's be real -- no one's expecting Shakespeare from an hourlong crime procedural. But if the characters can speak and interact with some degree of originality, that's not a bad start.
I have to say I was surprised by the level of violence in this pilot episode. Not because it's on network television -- network has been getting more and more violent (Hannibal, Under the Dome) in a way we're not going back from -- but because I assumed we were watching more of a comedy than a drama. Much of the interaction between Red and Keene is built on their mismatched "I'm a criminal; you're a cop!" social dynamic. Cutting from that to an insane spousal stabbing, or coordinated violent kidnapping, just feels a little tonally asynchronous. Something to work on in the coming weeks? CBS has been capitalizing on this sort of strange mix of light and dark for a while now, and as we all know has done very well for themselves this way. NBC may be trying a little outside their comfort zone here; we'll see how it plays.
All in all -- a perfectly acceptable first episode of a show that may or may not run forever, depending on how people felt about this one with their Nielsen boxes. There's real acting talent on display here and an interesting, endless premise to be mined. Will we be watching this show all season, and beyond? We'll find out!