The plot of CBS's new thriller Hostages could easily be mistaken for the first act of a box office flop or the opening chapters of an airport paperback. What it doesn't resemble is a television show. While Hostages is a limited series that is set to air only 15 episodes, stretching beyond two seems overly ambitious.
Dr. Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette) is going to be performing surgery on the President of the United States (James Naughton) to remove a mass from his lung. Unbeknownst to her, this distinguished responsibility has put her and her family in the cross-hairs. A four-man team, lead by maverick but gifted FBI Agent Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott), has been tracking Ellen's family and, on the night before the surgery, they enter her home and take everyone hostage. Their demands are simple: While he is in her care, she will kill the President. If she fails to do so, they will kill her family.
In the midst of this tense situation, several family secrets are revealed. Ellen's husband Brian (Tate Donovan) has been having an affair and he's also having major problems at his job. Their teenage daughter Morgan (Quinn Shephard) is pregnant and their son Jake (Mateus Ward) owes a large sum of money to a violent drug dealer. Some of these secrets are used by the hostage takers to keep the family in line, while others humanize the Sanders family in the eyes of their captors.
The idea that the Sanders family home wouldn't be guarded by Secret Service or FBI agents the night before Ellen takes the life of the President into her hands is already overtly ridiculous, but let's ignore that. Despite the presence of extremely capable actors like Collette and Donovan, there is nothing redeeming or interesting about this family. From the infidelity to teen pregnancy and drug use, this is a paint-by-numbers collection of soapy problems that does nothing to redeem or humanize the Sanders family in the eyes of the audience. McDermott's Carlisle is given more of a backstory, but since much of it is a puzzle relating to how he came into this situation, none of it really adds up to much.
Hostages clearly has aspirations of being a 24-style, time-sensitive thriller, but it's so committed to keeping the audience in the dark for the sake of mystery that there's no sense of urgency to anything that happens in the pilot. By the end of the first hour, the ticking clock is reset. The plot hints at a grand conspiracy within the government to kill the President, but those breadcrumbs aren't remotely substantial. How does a concept like this span for 15 episodes? How long can these people be held captive in their home before someone from the outside notices? It's complete nonsense and the attempts at thrills do nothing but bore.