Preview of Fox's 'Human Target': Fun but off the mark

HE'S GOT HER BACK: Freelance bodyguard Christopher Chance (Mark Valley, with Emmanuelle Vaugier) is on the case.
HE'S GOT HER BACK: Freelance bodyguard Christopher Chance (Mark Valley, with Emmanuelle Vaugier) is on the case. (David Gray/fox)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 16, 2010

"Human Target" is so old-school, its first episode takes place on a train. The premise of this new series (debuting Sunday night on Fox, before "24") seems charmingly assembled from leftover "Magnum P.I." and "Spenser for Hire" polyforms kept in a storage bin somewhere.

Client needs help. Smirkingly sexy hero and his misfit colleagues are hired to [solve the case, rescue the damsel, protect the jewels, whatever]. They get the job done in ham-handed, plucky fashion. Of course, it's ramped up to 21st-century standards: more double entendres, more snarky panache, better gizmos and more violence.

The show is about Christopher Chance, a freelance bodyguard with a special willingness to put himself in the place of clients who are convinced someone is trying to kill them. (Which happens enough to sustain the basic business model here.) He's aided by his former-lawman boss (Chi McBride) and a high-tech brainiac (creepy Jackie Earle Haley, made creepier by a wig).

When "Human Target" was first a comic-book story line in the 1970s (and later, a very short-lived 1992 TV series starring -- for real -- Rick Springfield), the idea, as I understood it, was that Christopher Chance not only protected the client, he became the client -- through disguise or some other ingenious bit of morphing. But that would deprive Mark Valley, the star of this new "Human Target," from showing off his handsome mug and delivering all his snappy dialogue. So now it's really just a show about hired muscle.

"You have a VEST?" asks Chance's babelicious client, after he takes a bullet for her. "Where's my vest?"

"I am your vest," he deadpans.

Valley is charming, fit, square-jawed and he has blue eyes that send Internet fan pages (which have been up since his soap-opera days) into swoony delight. He was all right in "Keen Eddie," a detective show several years ago, and had a nice supporting part in "Boston Legal," among other gigs. He's reliable, but as an actor, he's the equivalent of a fireman calendar -- okay to look at, and then what? The "Human Target" is cardboard.

Human Target

(one-hour pilot) premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on Fox; series continues Wednesday at 9 p.m.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company