King & Maxwell
Episode 1: Pilot
By: Carlos Uribe
King & Maxwell is about two former secret service agents that act as private investigators. It is based on the novel series by David Baldacci.
The most populous genre on television is the detective procedural. There are countless television shows where the audience follows a small group of characters trying to solve that week's mystery. They have proliferated in a medium that is arguably best suited for them. The literary world has a rich tradition of mystery novels dedicated to present a case being solved by the protagonist(s). A smart author will create a strong character or partnership in order to launch a series of novels that sell themselves after a few books. They create a brand that can become bestsellers. It's a bit surprising that television doesn't go to the literary world more often. There's the occasional Sherlock Holmes adaption or the attempts to bring a few iconic detectives their own shows but this tends to be shockingly rare. Hollywood pursues film adaptions of popular literary works quite rigorously but movies aren't the best medium for the mystery genre. It might get a sequel or two but most film detectives can only hope for a single mystery. Film Noir might have been popular at one point but it's no coincidence that the genre disappeared as television matured. A film is so limited in the number of mysteries it can tell. A book series is better but it can only deliver so many novels a year. A television show can present 22 good mysteries a season. It can develop the characters, visually represent the case, and employ elements that a novel can't. There are a lot of reasons for why procedural are so prevalent in the medium but it's partly because television is the best way to tell these kind of stories. It makes sense that television producers would try to adapt popular contemporary literary heroes into the medium because of the built-in fanbase and brand name that should theoretically make it easier to market. It's odd that television adaptions of the mystery genre has been so few so it makes King & Maxwell stand out a bit. I'm not sure whether the source material is bad, as I've never read a David Baldacci novel, but this adaption of it is very dull and is filled with weak writing.
The pilot basically begins with one of the least adrenaline-pumping car chases possible. This is a general problem with all of the action sequences in the episode-none of them are any fun. They simply exist because the series feels obligated to include them. It doesn't have any real fun with them nor do most of them feel like they're actually integral to the structure of the episode. The whole not having any fun sadly extends to the rest of the episode. The banter between the characters feels so lifeless, like it hasn't changed since the rough draft or it was added in last-minute to try to inject life to the script. The dull action could at least be excused since it doesn't pop up that frequently but the dead banter can't be. The whole reason of watching King & Maxwell isn't supposed to be the plot but because we want to see these two solving crimes. It's hard to do this when the show seems bored with it's very premise. The characters solve the crime but it's more like their going through the motions rather than because they have a passion for their job. If it feels like it's work for them then it's not going to very entertaining to watch them. As for the weekly case? It's pretty ridiculous filled with stupid over-the-top moments that never click. The hook to drag the characters into the pilot falls short for a couple of reasons. The first is we never meet the dead guy that is supposedly close to him. This makes it difficult to care about him so it's harder to appreciate King's motives. The second is that we don't know King well enough for this to have any emotional impact. We just met him so it makes little sense to start by giving him a personal case that doesn't do anything to add to our understanding of the character. To sum it up-the whole episode is lifeless and it's difficult getting invested into the weekly case.
The strength of any procedural depends on it's main detectives. I've already noted how their banter seems lifeless but it's partly because of how weak the characters are. This is honestly such a common complaint from me that I'm pretty sure anybody who reads my reviews knows what I'm going to say: the two protagonists are flat and two-dimensional. The male counterpart to the duo is Sean King. He's a former Secret Service agent whose charge, a Presidential candidate, was assassinated. His career was ruined, his reputation down the drain, his life was over. That is until the character killed this week got his legal troubles thrown out of the court and paid for him to go to law school. King has now passed the bar and acts as a personal investigator and lawyer. The series tries to explain the victim's impact on his life but it falls short since we were being told rather than shown. A bigger problem is that King's character is so flat that it wouldn't have mattered. His partner isn't any better. Maxwell is also a former secret service agent whose charge was kidnapped. She somehow met King (the two didn't work with the secret service at the same time) and she joined him in becoming a private investigator. Why? What's the history of their partnership? These questions that provide context for their relationship are never answered. They are simply working together and that's it. The show does provide some tension for their banter to be created out of. King believes in improvising while Maxwell is more by-the-book. Actually, that's not true because Maxwell improvised in the beginning car chase while King was bigger on being by-the-book. So, basically, who knows what the real differences between the two characters? I guess the conflict is that they simply aren't on the same page with the investigation except for when they are. I seriously hope the book was actually good at setting up this duo, their banter, and their relationship than the show.
The series has it's share of side characters to help or hinder the main detectives. The primary antagonist is going to be Frank Rigby, a character whose basically defined by his dislike of private investigators. He's basically a requirement for any show that covers private investigators instead of cops. His purpose is to provide an obstacle but Rigby is never a credible threat to our characters. His partner, Darius Carter, isn't really a character as he largely just stands there. I presume he was only included because they needed a token black character. The final main character, Edgar Roy, on the show is actually a client in the weekly case. Roy starts out being accused of being a serial killer on suicide watch. It turns out he was being set up by a multi-national corporation because he's the key to some company getting a contract. It's basically rested on the premise that Roy is such a good autistic genius-savant that he's able to process information that no human (or machine) can process. Which is not only ridiculous but also doesn't feel realistic. I get there's genius-savants but their not so smart that you build an entire defense system around them. Anyways, the protagonists are able to prove that Roy was being set up by using the satellite of the people framing him against him. Roy joins the detective agency as an accountant and will probably help them whenever the characters need a walking, breathing calculator. The cops on this show are weakly written but Roy is basically going to be a magical plot device that the writers can turn to at any moment.
King & Maxwell is not starting out as a very good show. It might become that one day but I'm not going to stick around to find out. Why? The pilot bored me. I'm willing to endure through some growing pains as long as the basis for the promised product is able to entertain from day one. King & Maxwell can't do that for me. It feels lifeless as the action scenes are obligated, the banter forced, and a weekly case that's hard to care about. The main characters are two-dimensional and there is no context for their partnership. The side-characters are just as weak. The cops are either cliches or undefined. The writers stopped developing Edgar Roy as soon as they established him as an autistic genius-savant. If you're a fan of the book series, who knows? Maybe this series will be worth checking out. If you're not, there is no reason to watch this.