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'The Player' play of the game: Low-tech is the best tech

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Pilot” | Aired Sep 24, 2015

For all the action in The Player, the key moment in Thursday’s premiere was actually a simple conversation that Alex Kane had on the street.

Needing to find the location of kidnappers holding a foreign dignitary’s daughter, Alex (a spot-on Philip Winchester) learns from Cassandra (Charity Wakefield) that the bad guys are somewhere within Las Vegas city limits, and that they drove away from the scene of the crime in a black van. Cassandra is surprised, and maybe mildly offended, when Alex tells her that rather than avail himself of the databases at her fingertips, he’s going to talk to a friend. “Low-tech is the best tech,” he explains.

Alex has already tracked down a homeless acquaintance, and asks the other man to ask around and see if any encampments have been cleared out recently; he knows that the bad guys are going to need someplace to hole up until their demands are met. Within minutes, his friend comes back with the location of an abandoned mall that was taken over by people claiming to be security—with a black van. Bingo. Take that, high technology!

All jokes aside, this sequence of events is crucial for the pilot. From a plot standpoint, it allows Alex to quickly locate the kidnappers, as he finds out in this same span that they’re planning to kill their hostage as soon as their wire transfer of funds clears. If he’d asked Cassandra to start searching databases, there’s no knowing how long that would have required. Maybe it would have been as fast, but maybe not … and that’s not a chance Alex can afford to take.

Plus, he has a valid point. We’re so reliant on technology these days, often at the expense of our ability to problem-solve or just take care of ourselves. We don’t do basic math ourselves anymore; we have calculators. We don’t need to retain information like we used to; that’s what Google is for. There’s a certain technological dependency that exists in the modern world, and Alex is bucking that trend.

But his choice also says a tremendous amount about The Player as a series. This is the moment when Alex gets his in his relationship with the House. He shows Cassandra that his own intelligence is just as important to the game as her vast artificial one. He’s not just a body to be moved around, and he doesn’t always need her help. Furthermore, he’s going to have his own ideas, and those ideas might occasionally deviate from their expectations. In that moment, he shows that he’s going to be a different player—both in what he contributes and in how he’s not going to be controlled.

For the audience, this sequence establishes the credibility of the show and underlines the real dynamic going on between Alex and the House. No one wants to watch a show in which a guy runs around Las Vegas stopping crimes by constantly calling on an all-powerful group and its giant toy box. There’s no suspense there, no dimension, and it’s no fun if the hero always has a golden ticket that gets him out of every problem. We need to see that Alex can take care of himself.

Once we see that he doesn’t always need the House to get the job done, then he has importance as the main character. We know that the show needs him, we know that the game needs him, and we know that we should care about what he does because what he does matters. He earns credibility in our eyes. The show can stand there and tell us he’s Vegas’ best security consultant all it wants, but we need to see that he really is that good. Otherwise, it’s all just hyperbole. We see some of that in the start of the episode, but this is almost more important because he’s actually sort of showing up the House when he does it.

It’s that act of refusal that sets the tone for the future relationship as the series progresses. Alex is unafraid to say that he’s going to do things his way. Today, it’s opting to gather his own intelligence; tomorrow, it could be refusing to do something unethical, or challenging one of the House’s many invisible rules. How often are these two sides going to butt heads, and how are they going to resolve it?

Let’s say Alex decides he’s ticked off at Mr. Johnson and doesn’t want to go through with a bet. What happens to the innocent bystanders in play if he’s not working with the House to stop that crime? How angry would the mysterious gamblers be if infighting got in the way of their action? These two sides are professionally obligated to get along, but in this one sequence, we see that there’s a pretty good chance they won’t always play well together.

Sometimes it’s the little things. The Player delivered a pilot episode with big action and big story ambitions, but it also grounded those aspects with solid characters and plot points that kept the series in a place where the audience could believe in it and connect to it. It’s the story of one moral and competent man who happens to have this major and powerful group behind him—not the other way around. That’s what makes it so compelling to watch.

The Player airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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