James Spader as "Red" Raymond Reddington in "The Blacklist," premiering...

James Spader as "Red" Raymond Reddington in "The Blacklist," premiering Monday, Sept. 23 at 10 p.m. EST on NBC. Credit: AP

DRAMA SERIES "The Blacklist"

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Monday at 10 on NBC/4

REASON TO WATCH James Spader eats one of those big federal government fortress buildings.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT That would be the scenery at the start of Monday night's breezy "Blacklist" pilot, devoured by TV's most voracious thespian even before we know what Spader's new show is about.

Lucky for this ham, it provides a meaty role -- Red Reddington, a onetime big-time federal operative who flipped to become a giddy evildoer a la The Joker: No country, no political agenda, his "only allegiance is to the highest bidder." But instead of staying MIA, like a good little big bad traitor, he up and surrenders to the FBI, in the person of TV's latest gorgeous babe agent, young profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone, "Law & Order: LA"), for whom he's got some kind of a thing. Red declares he'll be happy to betray assorted global villains weekly, to help catch "the criminals who matter." But only alongside the green Lizzie. Wink, wink.

MY SAY Spader seems to be the only one who actually gets the gameplay here. The blacklist is what our mad genius calls his criminal inventory, because "it sounds exciting," lip smack, grin. The actor's strut recalls brain-candy romps like "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." elegantly preposterous tongue-in-cheek adventures. And the script seems to incite his appetite. But everyone else acts 21st century serious, which, after a zillion "CSI"-style bleakfests, is really, like, so over.

Ain't he got fun? That name -- Red Reddington. That wacky glass cube he's imprisoned in. (Leftover from "The Avengers"?) That creepy Liz obsession. He's even got a valet! And he's got the goods on his chosen agent's hottie hubby ("90210" teacher Ryan Eggold), who, it turns out, is -- all together now -- not what he seems.

BOTTOM LINE C'mon, producers. Upend the procedural. Let Spader run loose.


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