CBS’s new crime suspense drama Ransom won’t make anybody forget Law & Order, but it probably deserves better than the Saturday night slot to which it has been sentenced.
Saturday is known these days as the night when no one watches television, so it’s somewhat unusual that the network has slotted a new scripted procedural at 8 p.m. ET Saturdays starting Jan. 7.
It does get a one-time higher-profile shot with its premiere, at 8:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Jan 1 after a football doubleheader.
By all appearances, CBS is taking a low-risk midseason shot with this 13-episode drama, which is loosely based on the real-life story of Laurent Combalbert, a for-hire hostage negotiator.
The show is a coproduction with companies in Canada, France, and Germany, which spreads out the cost and means it doesn’t have to be a hit everywhere to make some money.
The Combalbert character here is renamed Eric Beaumont and played by Luke Roberts (left). He’s a confident fellow with a commanding manner and a well-cultivated poker face.
In the first episode, he is called by a former tech millionaire to negotiate the ransom for a kidnapped boy who may be the millionaire’s long-lost son.
People sometimes call Beaumont rather than the police in this situation, it is explained, because the police must try to apprehend the perp, whereas Beaumont can focus exclusively on getting the hostage released.
When responding, Beaumont brings along two trusted aides: Oliver Yates (Brandon Jay McLaren), who does psychological profiling and also seems to be the office gatekeeper, and Zara Hallam (Nazneen Contractor), who handles a lot of the nuts and bolts while Beaumont is working out and implementing strategies.
He is also unexpectedly joined by a rookie, Maxine Carlson (Sarah Greene), who talks her way onto the team despite what might seem like a deal-breaker in her past.
Using high-tech equipment and explaining his moves and motives at every step – more for the benefit of the viewer than his colleagues, we can assume – Beaumont stalls, fakes, and weaves until he feels like he has some cards to play.
That dance will presumably be repeated weekly with different kidnappers and hostages, in the honored tradition of CBS procedurals.
While procedurals take some criticism as being overly formulaic, they have been good for CBS, which has consistently attracted sizeable audiences for the good ones.
Ransom, to be blunt, seems as straightforward as procedurals get.
Beaumont and his team hint at some personal nuances up front, and Maxine’s presence ensures there will be dramas outside the weekly hostage negotiations. But unless things change dramatically, it feels like Ransom will mostly be hosting a series of lively chess matches between nasty bad guys and a team that’s often undermanned, but rarely outsmarted.
The producers seem to hope that a mildly shadowy core team and the inherent tension of hostage negotiations will entice viewers into an hour of old-school Saturday night entertainment.
The good news about that Saturday slot is that Ransom doesn’t need blockbuster numbers. If the goal is modest, the show seems sufficiently well-written and produced to achieve it.