The first episode included a good deal of Where Is This Relationship Going, a little of Isn't My Floppy Fringe Just Fantastic, and a couple of hostage situations.


Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET
Cast: Ron Livingston, Rosemarie DeWitt, Gina Torres
Network: Fox
US release date: 2006-09-05

It may be telling that several days after Standoff debuted, its official website was still "under development" and full of features that were "Coming Soon". Could Standoff be going shortly? I'd be hard pushed to argue otherwise. The premise is flawed to the point of fatuousness. You can almost hear the cookie-cutting geniuses at work: "Hey, let's take an idea for a movie, say, hostage negotiation. Stir in a little Moonlighting chemistry and a bit of that stuff called humour. It's primetime TV gold. Waddaya say?"

Um. No.

Confronted by a P.O.C. (work it out) like this, you have to ask yourself whether the creators of Standoff ever expected it to develop any kind of legs. Did they believe they could contrive a suitably different and yet convincing scenario each week for a full season? And if they honestly thought they could pull off that very difficult trick, then why didn't they come up with a better idea for their premiere episode?

To be fair, the Standoff debut began quite nicely. An all grown up Luke Duke (Tom Wopat) had a handgun, his two kids, and a cell phone in his car; and negotiator extraordinaire Matt Flannery (Ron Livingston) was trying to talk him out of a Hostage Rescue Team sniper's bullet with his name on it.

But no sooner had this promising opening scene been established than Standoff began its rapid and apparently irreversible descent.

Acting on the orders of Supervisory Special Agent In Charge, Cheryl Carrera (Gina Torres), HRT took control of the crisis and prepared to take the former Duke of Hazzard out. Following Hollywood conventions, Flannery then had no choice but to put himself between HRT's super-sniper scopes and their target. And to start chewing up the scenery like a bulimic showboater on crank.

I didn't time it, and I don't have the heart to watch the scene again, but I'd guess it took Standoff less than four minutes to have its star broadcast to the entire world that he'd been having a secret affair with his negotiating partner, Emily Lehman (Rosemarie DeWitt), and consequently, he knew exactly where Luke Duke was coming from. Because sleeping with your partner is now and has always been every bit as serious a crime as kidnapping your own children and threatening to shoot them in the middle of downtown Los Angeles while holding up traffic.

The initial crisis resolved, Standoff moved immediately to its next point of tension. In the straitlaced world of Crisis Negotiation, partners are encouraged to hang out together, but not to exchange fluids. One, apparently, is good for morale. The other might affect the negotiators' judgment. Oh my. Where now for TV love?

A long and silly story made short: there followed a good deal of Where Is This Relationship Going, a little of Isn't My Floppy Fringe Just Fantastic, and an entirely risible second hostage situation. The college-aged son of a Senator pretended to be an Islamic convert to the gospel of Al-Qaeda just so he could kill himself in public and really stick it to his parents. Rosemarie DeWitt exchanged herself for an entire coffee shop full of hostages. The boy's mother told him she was sorry. He cried. And everyone went happily home to exchange fluids.

Or did they?

Standoff almost entirely lacks the imagination and strong characters of Fox's Justice. And despite an occasionally fine comic touch, it has nothing like the stellar wit of House. Standoff does, however, have a cast that deserves better, especially Torres. Unhappily for these actors, and for fans of Ron Livingston's fringe, I can't see Standoff remaining with us for many more weeks. But then, I expected the same of Bones and look what a truly first rate show that has become.


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