We have all been fooled thus far into thinking that TNT's Legends is a new TV series ("from the producers of 24!") instead of what it is, beneath the scowls: An elaborate waterwheel to harness and disperse the power of its star, Sean Bean. There is a proud tradition of this sort of thing, grabbing hold of a charismatic star and finangling a narrative, like a bad quilt, out around him or her until suddenly there is a show. Your Human Targets, your Dollhouses, your The Insides.

The logic is sound, if mothball-y, that it's not the what that matters but the who. A risky proposition, if you accept the wisdom that celebrity is a mostly fixed set of poses that are the opposite of variable. And riskier still even if you accept that serialized TV is by definition almost all what.

Like those other shows, Legends extends a tantalizing promise: Bean "becomes" a new person for each case. The only rule being that there are no rules but: Sean Bean is awesome. This should be great fun of a narrow but dashing variety, adherent to a law of dependable returns. It's what is at work when Maya Rudolph played Maya Angelou playing a police-woe-man, which is to date the most ideal example of this entire kind of proposition and was, to be fair, a doodle of an idea and not a TV show.

Legends' promise is rigged: Bean is not our guy. Not that he is not a guy, understand. (I thought he was an awful Ned Stark, yet his Boromir performance is the great treasure of Peter Jackson's LOTR trilogy.)

Line up these shows like die-cuts, peer through them and you'll start to see the shape of the problem: They are all exactly the same show. Which can be difficult to admit! if, like me, you cotton to Dollhouse's wry ridiculata or Human Target's Chi McBride. Approximately: Government or extra-governmental agencies who employ jacks of all trades who are suffering from a serious personal trauma that becomes inexorably linked to the agency who employs them. We go all the way around and end up back at the what after all.

And let us set aside the theoretical considerations of television as a medium and the aesthetics of narrativizing the celebrity apparatus. Like. Dushku and Bean and Nichols and Valley couldn't do it, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. Imagine: Jessica Chastain as The Facer (by day: Hollywood VFX gal), Scott Bakula is: Undone, and Alfre Woodard in Redo.

[Images via TNT and NBC, video via Youtube]

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