Antony Starr as an ex-con in “Banshee.” (Fred Norris/HBO)
TV critic

“Banshee,” premiering Friday night on Cinemax, is part of the movie channel’s goal to plaster itself with flinty new action series that are really just re-pulped pulp made as stylishly as possible. You need it like you need another hole in your head.

Produced by Alan Ball (“True Blood,” “Six Feet Under”) and created by two literary novelists (Jonathan Tropper and David Shickler) who ought to know better, it’s the story of a master thief who, upon completing a 15-year prison sentence, winds up in rural Pennsylvania. He’s in search of — in no particular order — his ex-girlfriend, revenge against Russian mobsters, closure and, while he’s at it, a full-on Amish drug war.

And because all cable dramas are apparently made in a ­vacuum, “Banshee” has the audacity to behave as though its bloody violence, implausible set-up and studied ugliness are somehow vanguard television. In fact, it’s just more of the same.

As the unnamed antihero, New Zealand actor Antony Starr is a taut, ill-tempered, wee fireplug of a man in the Jason Statham mold, exactly suited to bullet-ridden pap like this. When he learns that his ex-girlfriend and former partner in crime, Carrie (Ivana Milicevic), is living under a new identity in the little town of Banshee, he motorcycles out there to find her. (But first, a shootout on the streets of Manhattan with said Russian thugs. Wait, sorry — first the humpy sex scene with a random bartendress. God love ya, Skinemax.)

Banshee, of course, is a town filled with characters that one can only imagine as color-coded notecards tacked up on the writers’ bulletin board. Soon there’s a plot twist that sets up the entire series: A newly hired sheriff is shot dead in a nearly empty barroom, and before anyone — you and me included — figures out what’s what, the mystery man buries the body and passes himself off as the lawman.

At least Starr’s character now has an (assumed) identity: Sheriff Lucas Hood. Once sworn in by the naive mayor, Lucas learns that Carrie is now a real estate agent married to Banshee’s chief prosecutor (Rus Blackwell), whose singular obsession is to convict Banshee’s ubiquitous crime boss, Kai Proctor.

As played by Ulrich Thomsen, Proctor is immediately too much of a bad thing, just another one of cable’s overwritten evildoers. He’s a deranged owner of a meatpacking plant and a drug lord who controls just about everything in Banshee. Outcast from his Amish upbringing, Proctor sexually brutalizes his 24-7 slave harem, and when an employee displeases him, he feeds his fingers to his attack dog.

It’s disturbing to watch, but also, as far as this genre is concerned, disturbingly banal.


(one hour) premieres Friday at

10 p.m. on Cinemax.