Human Target

Nice save, Fox. Before the season started, it looked as if the network was hanging the appealing high-action sleeper Human Target out to dry on Fridays, where it was originally scheduled. But the early cancellation of Lone Star and a schedule shuffle opened up a slot on the show's former night (Wednesday) from last midseason. And all of a sudden we now have an hour of exhilarating midweek escapism to enjoy, reminding us how good a show like this can be (as opposed to the fizzle and fast fade of NBC's Undercovers in the same time period).

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"Relax. I'm one of the good guys," Christopher Chance (the rakish and charmingly sheepish Mark Valley) assures an alarmed bystander, and by extension the audience, as the second season begins. Chance is a mercenary hero, a bodyguard for hire, a reckless maverick with no qualms about putting himself in danger to save an innocent. It's like he has a death wish — as a new client puts it, "Everyone's afraid to die ... unless of course for some reason they think they deserve it."

Human Target is, beyond its enjoyably high-octane caper missions, the story of Chance's raucous road to redemption from a murky past of being an assassin for hire. (An occupation that comes back to haunt him in the season's second episode, when he finds himself protecting the widow of one of his early kills.)

If any of this makes the show sound heavy, it shouldn't. This is pure popcorn entertainment, with outrageous action sequences, terrific stunts and clever twists bolstered by the tart interplay between Chance and his team, which includes a curmudgeonly handler, Winston (Chi McBride, always a joy), and a scruffy but deadly operative, Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley, beyond cool), whose sinister reputation precedes him. "What Jay-Z is to rap, what Louis Vuitton is to luggage, he is to torturing the truth out of people," gushes an awed acolyte.

In an effort to (one hopes) broaden the show's appeal, Human Target immediately welcomes two new regular female characters, a rare example of tweaking a formula and making it even more fun to watch. In this case, the more the merrier when the "more" includes the stunning Indira Varma (Rome, the current BBC America series Luther, to name a few outstanding credits) as Ilsa Pucci, an elegant and cosmopolitan philanthropist who brings Chase out of temporary retirement to rescue her from harm. Along the way, the team encounters a spunky thief named Ames (Janet Montgomery, a find) who becomes an overeager sidekick to the irritable lone wolf Guerrero.

One of the reasons Target hits its mark so frequently is that while we believe Chase and his cohorts are taking the job seriously, they're not that impressed with themselves. Chase says with some frequency that he's "not a big fan of game plans," and when Pucci lectures him that "There's a lot smarter ways to earn a dollar," he grins, "I'm not very bright."

That's debatable, but we love him for saying it anyway. Human Target is a show that burns bright because it never aims to be more than what it is: a solid, well-produced, lavishly packaged entertainment that succeeds grandly at its modest but robust goal.

Human Target premieres Wednesday, 8/7c, on Fox.

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