Why is CBS's Smith so fun?
The premise of Smith is completely ridiculous: A family man (Ray Liotta) is actually a master thief, who travels around the country pulling off grand heists. He has a team of specialists who assist him, and none are redeeming characters. So, we are supposed to root for a guy who deceives his wife and son, is a mercenary, and is a man who witnesses the death of a team member and walks away with no remorse? On paper, this all seems a tad unpleasant, doesn't it? Well, somehow, it's not. With Smith, CBS has created one of the most entertaining and gleefully evil shows televison has seen in a long time.
Smith is a derivative of the type of cinema currently embodied by the works of Tarantino. Hardened anti-heroes who do bad things, yet still remain in the viewer's good graces. Like characters on “The Sopranos”, we would not be friends with these people in real life. We wouldn't like them and, in all likelihood, we'd be scared of them. However, in the context of their own, specific universe, we can root for them and become caught up in their plight. Why? I don't think it's over-simplifying it to say that it's just entertaining. Smith focuses on Bobby Steven's team pulling off high-stakes robberies. As long as these robberies are exciting (which they have been so far) the viewers will be tuning in.
Viewers can forgive a lot when it comes to their protagonists. People identify with flawed characters because they themselves are flawed. When Simon Baker's character on Smith mercilessly guns down two thugs, simply because they kicked him off their private beach, we identify with him. We don't agree with harshness of his reaction and would never consider doing what he did (I don't own a sniper rifle, anyway) but we respect that he stood up for himself and would like to believe that we'd stand for oursleves in the same situation. Anti-heroes take reality and accentuate to a degree that the layman will never know.
Smith is good only because it's characters are the bad people they are. I've heard complaints that the characters on Smith are so totally unredeemable that they just can't watch Smith. Well, how would the show work if Ray Liotta played Bobby Stevens as a nice, warm-hearted, respectful, stand-up guy? It would seem wildly improbable for a guy like that to be involved in the world of high-stakes robberies. Of course, this seems obvious, but it's a key issue to ponder over when discussing the premise of any show. When creating a TV show, you typically begin with the premise. I'm sure that was the genesis of Smith. Creator Jon Wells probably thought, “Hmm, you know what'd be cool? If there was a show where a team of thieves pulled off a different heist every week.” From there, what kind of a main character do you create? There aren't a lot of options. Sticking to take-no-prisoners bad ass is usually the best choice.
Smith is still early in it's run and it could easily drop off in quality as the season goes along. I hope not, because CBS has created a show that is fun, full of action and uncompromising in it's vision.
-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer
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