Banshee doesn’t come with a USDA sticker attached, but don’t worry — this show is 100 percent pay-cable cheese by any measure:
First sex scene: One minute and five seconds into the show. First sassy transvestite: Two minutes and 14 seconds. First car chase: Four minutes and 10 seconds. First gunfight: Five minutes and three seconds.
To be fair, Banshee is not without a contemplative side. It’s nearly 17 minutes to the first bar brawl in which a dinner fork is driven through a hand. (Dysfunctional encounters between metacarpal bones and dinner utensils are a surprisingly regular occurrence in Banshee.) And it’s more than 18 minutes before somebody is killed by a bottle of steak sauce rammed down his throat.
Debuting Friday on Cinemax, Banshee is a gleeful celebration of all the stuff that can’t be done on broadcast or basic cable. Mindless violence is punctuated with random sex and creative obscenity. (Where else are you going to find a character extolling a day at the beach as “ski-[bleepin’]-ball, cotton-[bleepin’]-candy and sea-[bleepin’]-gulls”?)
Still, the show is powered by a sheer lunatic energy that’s kind of fun, provided your aesthetic sensibilities, politesse and toleration for flying viscera are no more refined than those of a lab monkey driven insane by experimental cocaine overdoses. True Blood’s Alan Ball is one of the executive producers, and like True Blood, Banshee can be preposterously entertaining, or perhaps entertainingly preposterous.
Antony Starr, a hunky New Zealand TV star making his American debut, plays Lucas Hood, a master thief just released after 15 years in prison. He has twin missions: hiding out from an associate he swindled out of several million dollars during their last caper and searching for his lost girlfriend, who’s holding the swag.
The search takes him to the backwoods burg of Banshee, Penn., where the girlfriend ( Casino Royale Bond girl Ivana Milicevic) — who claims to have lost the loot — has started a new life as a soccer mom. Partly hoping to rekindle their romance, partly to keep an eye out for the money and partly because Banshee is the kind of show where stuff doesn’t have to make a lot of sense, Hood assumes the identity of the new sheriff.
This turns out to be trickier than expected, for the town has its own criminal mastermind, Kai Procter ( The World Is Not Enough Bond bad guy Ulrich Thomsen). Slaughterhouse corruption! Muscling into the Amish furniture-making business! Raising man-eating dogs! Imagine Tony Soprano moving to Oz to menace a bunch of potty-mouth Munchkins, throw in a Wicked Witch or two who go commando-style under their smocks, and you’ve got the picture. As a Banshee bartender muses after a brawl leaves his place neck-deep in corpses: “This is what you call in the Bible a cluster[bleep] of epic proportions!” Yeah, but try to look away.