Part crime thriller, part mind game, NBC's new drama The Blacklist has us seeing Red — and loving it. From the moment James Spader's Raymond "Red" Reddington, one of the most wanted miscreants in the FBI database, turned himself in, the series has been hooking fans while heaping on the questions about this inscrutable "concierge of crime." Why is he turning on his fellow felons and selling them out to the Feds? Why has he chosen Special Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) to be his sole liaison? Can this show get any cooler? In keeping with Red's preferred method of madness, here's our own list of reasons we are so into The Blacklist.
1. James Spader rocks!
A three-time Emmy winner (he earned one for The Practice and two for Boston Legal), Spader embodies all shades of ambiguous villainy as Red, the world's foremost criminal mastermind and our newest man we hate to love. "I was looking for another TV show but thought originally that [it would be] something on cable," says Spader, confessing that it was The Blacklist's pilot script that sold him on another network series after his brief stint on The Office. "I got very excited about it." Once the deal was sealed, he dove right into Red, going so far as crafting the criminal's close-cropped look. "He has to be able to travel quickly [and] lightly, so it seemed eminently practical that he could keep his hair trimmed himself," he says, adding that he enjoys "an open line of communication" with the writers to make sure Red avoids becoming a cookie-cutter bad guy. "Spader has the show in his heart," says creator and executive producer Jon Bokenkamp. "He's doing whatever he can to make this character as real and as grounded as possible."
2. And so does Megan Boone!
We love watching a gifted newcomer get her moment, and as Red's central obsession, FBI rookie Liz Keen, Boone is bringing the smart and sexy, says Spader. "She's bitten off a lot here, and she's fairly new to this, yet Megan is very smart, thoughtful and cares desperately about the thing as a whole." Tasked with occupying The Blacklist's often fragile emotional center amid all the running and gunning, Boone — who costarred on NBC's short-lived Law & Order: L.A. — is grateful to be able to draw from her primary scene partner's wisdom. "He supports me and makes it possible for me to work on another level," she says. Interestingly, Boone never read with Spader before she was cast. "I think when they realized they found the right people for the roles, they knew we would create chemistry."
3. The villains are to die for.
Sleepy Hollow's Headless Horseman isn't Monday night's only evil entity, and the human baddies here are just as horrifying. Whether it's Isabella Rossellini's duplicitous sex trafficker or the body-dissolving Stewmaker, Red's targets of the week have been the stuff of nightmares. Possibly even recurring ones. "If occasionally one of the people we really love gets away at the end of the episode," says executive producer John Eisendrath, "we love the idea that we could build up a rogues' gallery that we could revisit every now and again."
4. We get to see Parminder Nagra as we never have before.
"After playing Neela on ER for six years...this is a grown-up," enthuses the actress, who has happily embraced her role as seasoned CIA agent Meera Malik, even as her character engages in a prickly dynamic with Red. "She doesn't really believe this person. It's like, 'Who is this guy and why are we listening to him?'" she says. "I have to say, I had to match him in a scene and I was actually a little bit scared. I was like, 'It's James Spader!'"
5. It's not The Silence of the Lambs.
Pegged early on as a Hannibal Lecter rip-off, The Blacklist has quickly proven itself more than just a quid pro quomance between Red and Liz. "To me, Seven is just as much of a touchstone to this as is Silence of the Lambs," says Bokenkamp, admitting that Thomas Harris's novel and Jonathan Demme's film did inspire the pilot. "But what's different here is that Reddington goes out in the world, continuing to be a criminal [while] he is working with the Feds. As much as we see him in the orange box in the pilot, that went away. What's interesting to me is to be able to follow him and see how he's going to interact with not only Liz but also the rest of the Feds."
For more on The Blacklist, pick up this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands Thursday, Oct. 31!