If exploding pyramids, poisoned casino chips, and airtight sarcophagi bring you joy, you might be a prime candidate to hate-watch Blood & Treasure. CBS’s take on adventures like National Treasure, Indiana Jones and The Da Vinci Code, Blood & Treasure is about a pair (whose surnames are unfortunately not “Blood” or “Treasure”) who retrieve historically relevant artifacts—and it’s not good. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not often fun.
I got to watch the two-hour premiere, “The Curse of Cleopatra – Parts I and II”, which sees the show’s intrepid duo deal with the fallout from finally finding the long-lost tomb of Marc Antony and Cleopatra. Treasure hunter Danny McNamara (Matt Barr) is ex-FBI, looks like a model, and talks like one too. He’s no archeologist, but an international lawyer with dubious skills besides being a white guy on a network show. We meet him documenting a painting—stolen from a client’s family by Nazis—so that an auction house doesn’t sell it off. It’s unclear what Danny’s getting out of it, besides proving he’s a great guy, but if he didn’t need balancing, he wouldn’t need a partner.
That’s where Lexi Vaziri (Sofia Pernas) comes in. She acquires art in a less wholesome way than Indiana Cheekbones over there and has a lot more charm to offer. She’s sort of a Carmen Sandiego figure, which Danny’s benefactor (who was searching for Cleopatra’s tomb for its treasure) recognizes would offer his milquetoast errand boy an actual chance of success. He offers to finance the pair—who now have to get the famous mummies and their infamous goodies back from whoever gave the pyramids the Michael Bay treatment AND rescue Danny’s kidnapped mentor Dr. Ana Castillo (Alicia Coppola)—on their globetrotting escapades.
Pernas can almost pull off lines as flat as “I never needed a man to protect me” with her curled, Cersei-lipped smile, but perhaps her charisma is just shining extra brightly off Barr’s blank polish. Barr’s got an unforgiving job as a boring beacon of morality who’s too hapless to be a mall cop, let alone an FBI agent, but the two-parter doesn’t showcase anything he might be trying to bring to the role. His stoicism is only matched by his old pal (and now pursuing Interpol agent) Gwen Karlsson (Katia Winter), and his chemistry with Lexi (they used to date) is as steamy as a kettle on an unlit burner.
The imbalance between the leads wouldn’t stand out so much if they didn’t have an imposing villian with screen presence like Karim Farouk (Oded Fehr), who’s the nebulously-defined terrorist that apparently once blew up Lexi’s dad. What he stands for is unclear, but an Egyptian name and a big scar on the side of his face are offered as the only explanation we need. The scar is only a shade less silly than that of Dr. Evil, which may as well be the name of Fehr’s character. Instead, they name him Karim Farouk and don’t hesitate to bring up 9/11. Not helping TV’s already dire stereotyping problem. But hey, there’s also a priest named Father Chuck that works at the Vatican, sounds like a drunk Yankees fan, and takes plenty of liberties with godliness.
Yes, the Vatican. The two-part pilot takes the pair to countless countries via a handful of planes, all tracked by Indiana Jones-style maps. The world is set best with these big Spielbergian maps and winking Wilhelm screams—and worst with big expository conversations. That’s when it gets into the Assassin’s Creed pseudo-history mumbo jumbo about shadowy organizations, superstitious cults and protective orders. All that might be fun eventually, but they have to tease out all the good stuff, leaving us with not-so-exciting elements like a doltish arms dealer (Michael James Shaw) who keeps bumbling into Danny and Lexi’s path.
The maps also serve as flashback bookends, taking us back both a few years ago when Lexi and Danny were an item (and when Danny’s scruples kind of got her dad killed) and all the way back to 1942, when Nazis apparently found Cleopatra’s tomb. It’s an antiquity-hunting show, after all, so of course Nazis are all over it. The pace with which we run through the show’s sporadic range of settings is only matched by directors Michael Dinner and Alrick Riley’s dyspeptic pacing. Either Danny and Lexi are failing to banter with each other in a hallway or alley (the hallways of the outdoors), or there’s a fight in the back of a moving truck that’s resolved before any fun tension can be set-up and released with the action.
That action comes populated with two-shots, acted in a clash of camp and seriousness that could only be described as the two sides of Nicolas Cage’s career waging bitter war with themselves—and an uneven, network-style jokiness that constantly unsettles a drama already teetering on the edge of ridiculousness. Or perhaps the serious parts unfairly ground an adventure that wants to soar without any bearing on reality. But even opportunities for imaginative fun are botched, as problems are solved with money or by after-the-fact gadgetry explanations that are as unsatisfying as James Bond’s are fun.
Sometimes one of the gags from writers/creators Matthew Federman and Stephen Scaia will work, like when it’s revealed through text overlay that Lexi and Danny have accidentally parachuted into the Papal gardens in Vatican City. Blood & Treasure still has time to get weirder as it introduces secret societies and hopefully some Mummy-like magic, which could turn it into a nostalgic action-adventure with the tone of Legends of Tomorrow. Until the scattered show finds its groove, however, its main pleasure is watching Sofia Pernas devour her role and wondering what bigger, better things she’ll do in the future. Blood & Treasure is a recognizable Halloween costume and an unreliably silly piece of fodder that’s too dumb to be good and not crazy enough to be a good time.