By Paula Hendrickson
While I’d undoubtedly seen Sean Bean in movies or on TV over the years, I didn’t know his name until a few years ago when a friend of mine grew totally obsessed with BBC America repeats of his Sharpe TV movies of the ’90s.
Suddenly, he began turning up everywhere — movies, TV, even voicing characters on animated shows and video games. Or, maybe I just I started noticing his name in more and more production credits after hearing my friend saying “Sean Bean” about 50 times every time I spoke with her.
A true journeyman actor, Bean had prominent roles on two very different television series in 2011: in Ashley Judd’s limited series on ABC, Missing, and as the iconic Ned Stark from season one of HBO’s massive hit, Game of Thrones. The latter was so popular that even those of us without HBO heard about his character’s sudden and brutal exit from GoT.
This week, Bean returns to the small screen in a big way as the lead of TNT’s new series, Legends, an action series with conspiracy thriller undertones.
Bean plays deep cover FBI operative Martin Odum, a perfect role for a versatile character actor like Bean. As Odum, Bean shifts in and out of characters, and accents, as easily as anyone else would change clothes. Each of his aliases — or legends — has its own elaborate backstory, almost effortlessly inhabited by Odum. One of the biggest questions I had while watching the exposition-heavy first episode was why his boss (played by Steve Harris, of The Practice) felt the need to over-explain that fact to one of Odum’s colleagues. The other was: Why does an actor as good as Zeljko Ivanek always wind up playing bad guys? (Sure, he’s really good at playing villains, but to me, he’ll always be Baltimore’s good-guy Assistant State’s Attorney Ed Danvers on Homicide: Life on the Street.)
Full disclosure, the preview copy I saw of Legends is not exactly the same version of the pilot episode that will air this week. The pilot I watched was set in Chicago, but scenes were later re-shot to move Odum’s home base to Los Angeles. I’m sure producers had valid reasons for changing locales, but I’m not sure LA will provide the same sort of atmosphere Chicago would have.
Some of the supporting characters in the version I saw were a bit clichéd. For example, Tina Majorino is delightful in any role, but she already perfected geek chic as Mac on Veronica Mars 10 years ago. On Legends, she plays an FBI computer tech, leaving me wishing the tech were named Mac, not Maggie. Somehow, I doubt that detail will be changed by airtime.
Without spoiling anything, by the end of the first episode, a couple of curious events cause our favorite professional imposter to question his own identity. That might feel eerily similar to The Bourne Identity to some viewers, but I think Legends producers will have sense enough to take their story in a fresh direction. At least I hope they will.
Even if upcoming story lines don’t turn out to be all that original, at least with an actors’ actor like Bean heading up the solid cast, Legends is still worth watching.
Legends premieres Wednesday, Aug. 13, at 8 p.m. Central on TNT.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Aug. 12, 2014