Bloody, Brutal ‘Banshee’ Heads Off With a Bang

Some series head into their final season amidst massive fanfare, while others, like Banshee, take a quieter exit. The Cinemax series was never a ratings smash, but Banshee, which debuted a year before The Knick did on Cinemax, does deserve some respect for giving Cinemax an identity beyond the cheesy late-night sex movies that some associate the channel with.

Banshee is violent and graphic and at times brutal, and that’s just how Jonathan Tropper, cocreator, likes it. An acclaimed novelist—his books include This Is Where I Leave You and One Last Thing Before I Go—Tropper says he initially envisioned the series as a graphic novel. He had shopped his suburban, character-driven novels around Hollywood but did not find a TV taker. The bloody Banshee concept, though, found a home. “It draws from years of being a B-movie action fan,” he told B&C.

The eight-episode fourth and final season starts April 1. Notable TV critic Alan Sepinwall, who moderated a Banshee panel at the aTV festival in Atlanta last month, gives the new season a thumb-mostly-up, though he does take serious issue with one storyline. Writes Sepinwall on HitFix, “Through its first three seasons, Cinemax's Banshee was one of the most violent, gory dramas on television. The show doesn't just revel in excess; it would barely have a reason to exist without [it].”

Speaking at the aTV festival, Adam Targum, executive producer, noted how carefully he and Tropper script the violence. “Unlike other television shows, something that is very important about Jonathan and I is that we script every single punch and kick and you know, every Tomahawk sploosh that goes into a shoulder and blood,” he said. “A lot of shows don’t do that.”

Targum also noted how the cast, which includes Antony Starr as an ex-con and master thief who becomes sheriff in Banshee, Penn., and Ivana Milicevic as a jewel thief living in Banshee under a bogus identity, does almost all of its own stunts. “People always ask me why Banshee’s action scenes and fight scenes are so much better than other stuff they see and I attribute it to one thing,” he said. “It’s because these guys do 90% of their own stunts. We’re not cutting away and hiding stunt doubles in there. When you see them up there, it is them, for the most part.”

Sticking with the punches and kicks, Tropper has written the pilot for a new series inspired by Bruce Lee. The martial arts concept is set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1870s and is called Warrior; it too is planned for Cinemax. His publisher, for the moment, will have to wait.

“I never imagined how much work goes into running a show,” Tropper says. “I’m late on my next novel and I’ve aged a little quicker.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.