Review: The Player 1×1 (US: NBC)

A safe bet

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, NBC

I’m sure a lot of you will have seen CBS’s Person of Interest. In case you haven’t, let me précis: a genius programmer creates the ultimate surveillance computer, able to predict crimes before they happen, and he recruits an ex-special forces soldier to help him stop those crimes. Initially content simply to be ‘crime of the week’, the show evolves over the seasons to partly become about a war for control of that computer.

Imagine then an NBC show in which someone had wrested control away of that computer from CBS and was using it to… gamble. What you’ll have then is The Player.

Returning to his old Crusoe stomping ground to join his former Strike Back pal Sullivan Stapleton (Blindspot) on NBC, Philip Winchester is an ex-terrorist hunter FBI agent turned Las Vegas security consultant. While helping to secure some foreign dignitaries, things all get a bit personal and before you know it, he’s on the run from police.

Little does he know that he’s attracted the attention of a group of very wealthy people who have been tapped into the world’s information networks for years and can now predict when certain crimes are about to occur. They’d quite like him to help the dignitaries and stop further crime. 

But they’re not that bothered. See, what they really like to do is gamble on what’s going to happen. It’s all a big game to them. A game in which Winchester is The Player. Providing help but also supervising the game and making sure no rules are broken are The Dealer (Charity Wakefield from Any Human Heart, Wolf Hall, and Mockingbird Lane) and The Pit Boss, played by none other than tax-dodging action hero Wesley Snipes.

And as you might expect from a show set in sunny Las Vegas, rather than chilly grey old New York, as well as making you feel like you’ve taken something and lost big chunks of time, it’s a lot more explosive, a lot more funny and a whole lot more ludicrous than Person of Interest

It’s also loads of fun.

From the executive producers of The Blacklist comes the action-packed Las Vegas-set thriller The Player. The series co-stars Wesley Snipes as the pit boss and Charity Wakefield as the dealer for a high-stakes game, where an organization of wealthy individuals gamble on the ability of former military operative turned security expert Philip Winchester (Strike Back, Fringe) to stop some of the biggest crimes imaginable from playing out. Can he take them down from the inside and get revenge for the death of his wife, or is it true what they say: The house always wins.

John Rogers serves as writer and executive producer. John Davis, John Fox and director Bharat Nalluri also executive produce. The Player is produced by Sony Pictures Television, Davis Entertainment and Kung Fu Monkey.

Is it any good?
I doubt it’s going to win any Oscars or change lives. It’s also stupider than trying to cut your hair with a chainsaw. But for an NBC action show, not only is it refreshingly fun and unladen by woes and worries, it has action scenes that are moderately exciting and everybody in it seems to be having fun. Particularly Wesley Snipes.

The show does have a few problems. Things just seem to happen because the script wills them to happen. Winchester finds a playing card in his room, so miraculously knows that it’s a special key pass to access the elevators in a particular casino. He just turns up there without the slightest hint of explanation. He has a conversation with Wesley Snipes and mysteriously intuits that he has to steal a nearby car in order to prevent a crime from happening in the next few minutes. 

It’s the kind of thing where if you’ve been working on a TV show for a while and have seen so many redrafts and rough cuts of the show, you don’t notice that in the final edit all the explanation has been removed and the audience isn’t going to know how you got from a to b. It’s not a huge problem, since the action moves things along so quickly, you just go with it, but it does leave you feeling like you’ve been up all night at the casino and can’t quite remember how everything happened.

Winchester is fine as The Player, having spent four seasons of Strike Back rehearsing for the part, so handling the sometimes exciting, sometimes silly action scenes with aplomb. Despite his being half-American and having grown up in the US, hearing him with a US accent instead of an English accent feels very wrong and at times, it almost sounds like he’s faltering back into English. Even though he normally speaks with an American accent. But you have to be a Strike Back fan to notice that, I expect.

Most of the time, Snipes is just a gruff old menacing boss, out-alphaing the normally alpha Winchester. Snipes, of course, is a genuinely good, exciting and graceful martial artist.

Disappointingly, he’s very little involved in the action, but when he is involved, it’s beautiful. However, Snipes also gets to do comedy, trotting out undercover personae, as well as various bow-tied costumes that provoke a titter or two. It’s not enough to overshadow Winchester, but it does make you want to see a whole lot more of him than the show is currently willing to offer.

Wakefield initially appears to have the thankless ‘hot blonde at home base’ role. It doesn’t help when Winchester’s wife, Daisy Betts (Persons Unknown, The Last Resort) is ‘fridged’ in the first act, making it appear like Wakefield’s going to be a potential love interest, too. However, the show soon makes it clear that Wakefield’s going to have a lot more to do in the field as well, and the final act complicates the show’s seemingly obvious set-up.

In no sense is this the best TV show in the world. But it’s leagues more interesting and fun than the other debuting NBC action show, Blindspot. It’s set in and filmed in Las Vegas, which is always a bonus. And it never veers into exploitative or the outright insultingly stupid, just fun stupid. 

If you want an hour of Las Vegas excitement each week that doesn’t require you to actually go to Las Vegas, this is probably the rollercoaster you’ve been looking for.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.