You can wait on some shows. The ones that are good, but not great enough to watch in your worst enemy’s living room. “Banshee” is great enough. Soon enough, all of it could be yours on HBO Max.
Back on Jan. 11, 2003, Greg Yaitanes and Jonathan Tropper’s show premiered on Cinemax as one of their first real pushes out of the original programming gate. Instead of diet Pornhub or old action films, HBO’s sister network would start producing brand new shows, ones that had more brutal beauty than most. You could say that about this show.
While the popular definition of the show’s title refers to an evil spirit, it carried the name of a fictional town in Pennsylvania-where most of the show’s chaos would take place. All hell broke loose when the longtime thief with no name (Antony Starr, brilliant long before Homelander ever suited up) rides his motorcycle into Banshee, fresh out of prison and looking for his old girlfriend (Ivana Milicevic, luminous and bad to the bone all at once), finding lots of trouble instead.
Over the course of one night, the thief befriends the local bartender, Sugar (the great Frankie Faison) and gets involved with three dead bodies. Out of jail less than 12 hours and in a place that his best friend and master hacker Job (the hilarious and talented Hoon Lee) told him to stay far away from, the mysterious thief becomes a sheriff named Lucas Hood. Right before his body is pushed into the ground, the new Hood takes a call from Banshee’s mayor to be sworn into office.
That’s the first 15-20 minutes of the show’s existence. Once in town, Hood, who I will call Rocky Balboa with a bigger death wish, ruffles the feathers of Amish crime lord, Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen in one of the most realized antagonistic turns of the century), including his main henchman, Burton (Matty Rauch, making a pair of sunglasses extra creepy). He also butts heads immediately with Deputy Brock Lotus (Matt Servitto, the show’s MVP), the veteran badge who was passed over for a now-dead guy. Unlike Hood, who throws punches before looking for evidence or answers, Brock has a plan B and uses it frequently.
Trieste Kelly Dunn plays Deputy Siobhan Kelly, someone who sees the new sheriff in town slowly for who he really is-or could be. Milicevic’s Ana has gone straight and married a lawyer in Gordon Hopewell (Rus Blackwell, who gets better and better each season). While Brock and Gordon want to take Proctor down, they may not get much of a chance before Hood is done shooting and swinging. Eventually, real dangerous people in Geno Segers (HOOODDDD! you’ll know what I’m talking about), Odette Annable, and Langley Kirkwood. Hovering over the entire series, is a Ukrainian mob boss from New York, stitched into Ana/Carrie and Lucas’ past.
That’s all you’ll get on plot setup. Just know this. The emotions are as real as the hardcore, knock down/drag out fights on the show. Over the course of 38 episodes, the story became that gigantic onion. You peel back a layer or two, and there’s trouble for all the characters. A few more layers came off, and the problems returned. But as the body count rises and the stakes grow even higher, you will become addicted to the chaotic lives of these characters. Ones who storm through real life towns like Morrisville, North Carolina-where much of the series was shot. They even shot in Pennsylvania for the final season.
I would be remiss if I didn’t list some of the other people who made this road special for viewers, especially if you jumped in each week. Loni Peristere, who directed some of the show’s most exciting episodes. Ole Christian Madsen’s eye behind the camera was exceptional. But you can’t sleep on Babak Najafi’s work here either. Adam Targum, who wrote four episodes and was a producer whose role grew over the course of the series, knew how to balance action and pathos. The whole crew did. Jennifer Ames and Steve Turner wrote some of my favorite episodes.
Don’t forget about Christopher Faloona’s cinematography. Gary Cotti’s assistant director work. Marcus Young made all the fights look bloody read and packed them with sweat equity. The stunt performers, makeup artists, and production designers placed you in this world without heroes, just one without unicorns or fairy tale magic where the anti-hero wins. Characters you love, to watch or just grow close to, will die. Your jaw will drop about 50 times. Knowing what to expect becomes a game of chance.
Is there a lot of good sex? You’re damn right. Please don’t complain about beautifully-naked people getting it on between bullets and feet flying at their face. But it’s gratuitous, at least not how Yaitanes envisioned it. During the first season commentary, when Gordon and Carrie are making love during the afternoon, Yaitanes said the intention was to show a married couple were still hot for each other. Everything was engineered into the plot, but if the toll booth at Cinemax requires some extra nudity, just get over it and enjoy. One of the best answers I ever received from the cast during an interview was Milicevic explaining that her European upbringing left her unworried about nudity.
Bottom Line: “Banshee” is what you call lightning in a bottle for a TV show. It was stocked with unknown or little known acting talent on a network known for tits and butts, and every single member of the cast and crew went for it. And Tropper was wise enough to end the series, bringing Hood’s story to the end he had mapped out strategically long ago, while it was still very, very good. It didn’t overstay its welcome or make someone notice a rhetorical thread or scene. It was the extremely rare occasion where a network wanted more, but the creator said no thanks.
And now, it’ll be all yours on HBO Max this Tuesday. Don’t waste any time. Get into this story of imperfect people doing very bad things, yet making you care about them as if they were on a hospital show instead of carrying flamethrowers. Cinemax got brutally beautiful after dark with “Banshee.”