Anthony Starr as Lucas Hood, an ex-con and master thief...

Anthony Starr as Lucas Hood, an ex-con and master thief who assumes the identity of the sheriff of Banshee, Pa., in a scene from the HBO/Cinemax action TV series "Banshee," premiering at 10 p.m. Friday. Credit: HBO

THE SHOW "Banshee"

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Friday at 10 p.m. on Cinemax.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT After serving 15 hard years upstate, a man (we never do learn his name) is finally released. Brooding, unshaven, violently impulsive, he has scores to settle and some stolen loot to locate. He was a master thief back in the day, and now needs to find a former accomplice -- Carrie Hopewell (Ivana Milicevic) leading a respectable life as a wife and mom in Pennsylvania Amish country.

He heads to Banshee County and locates a bar where he witnesses the murder of the town's brand-new sheriff. Since no one has yet to lay eyes on the sheriff, he assumes his identity: Meet Banshee's newest lawman, Lucas Hood (Anthony Starr). The mayor wants him to take down Amish-born crime boss Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen). Meanwhile, there's a crime syndicate run by burly men with thick foreign accents that wants to take out Hood. The show was developed by Alan Ball, the former "Six Feet Under" and "True Blood" showrunner.

MY SAY Pop culture's current and hopefully passing obsession with the Amish (the reality series "Breaking Amish" and "Amish Mafia," the TV movie "An Amish Murder") takes an ominous turn with "Banshee," or -- if not "ominous" -- certifiably ridiculous.

This newcomer is like a cheap crime potboiler -- of the kind you bought off the rack in the good ol' days for a buck. For those hundred cents, you'd reliably get a grizzled hero fast with his fists (and the ladies), plenty of soft porn, graphic violence, implausible plotting, farcical dialogue and cliches happily pile-driving their way into other cliches. (Plus, Russian accents for the bad guys that would be rendered in prose thusly: "Ve VILL make you talk. ... Ve have VAAAAYS.") That's "Banshee" -- but also compulsively watchable, even though you may wonder what compelled you in the first place. Bonus points to New Zealand-born Starr, who's a good enough action lead to make you wonder why he's slumming it here. Demerits to the producers for turning the unsuspecting Amish into collateral damage once again.

BOTTOM LINE Check your brain at the door -- and, while you're at it, hand over your taste, judgment and sophistication, too. "Banshee" is baloney, but viewed as pure camp, there are some good action sequences and amusing moments.


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