The plot of “Game of Silence” — a tragic event brings five childhood friends together after 25 years apart and forces them to test the boundaries of their morality — focuses on a familiar dramatic theme: The difference between justice and revenge as people who have been deeply wronged define it. Done with the right amount of depth, it can be a powerful storyline. But when it relies on too easy characterizations, as it does in this series, it loses impact.
Jackson Brooks (David Lyons), an ambitious attorney with a promising career, is confronted with his past after childhood friends Gil Harris (Michael Raymond-James), Shawn Cook (Larenz Tate) and Jessie West (Bre Blair) unexpectedly reenter his life when the fifth member of their circle is arrested for assault. The situation goes from bad to worse and Jackson is suddenly faced with his dark history. The backstory is that the boys spent nine months in a juvenile detention center called Quitman after Jackson made a well-intentioned but reckless decision on behalf of Jessie, his childhood girlfriend. The events at Quitman are then slowly revealed through flashbacks.
The flashback technique is meant to be expository and create sympathy for the characters and it accomplishes those goals. It’s hard not to feel for the boys who are dumped in a rough place where terrible things happen to them. While the details are revealed slowly to create suspense, it’s not difficult to guess what they are.
Unfortunately, Warden Ray Carroll (Conor O’Farrell) is straight out of Bad Guy 101 while each of Jackson’s friends are easily defined. Gil is the hothead prone to violence. Shawn is more reasonable but will follow Gil’s lead. Jessie, now Gil’s girlfriend, is hiding her own secret but otherwise is restricted to worrying about everything. Jackson is conflicted.
If Jackson turns to the dark side or Gil becomes reasonable or Shawn develops a mind of his own, the series has potential but a few episodes in and these scenarios seem unlikely. Content with keeping characters in their predictable lanes, the show plays it safe when it should explore the complexity of vengeance and the personal cost of betraying your moral compass. Instead, it relies on familiar characterizations and an out-of-left-field drug subplot that would be more at home on any episode of a cop show.
Lyons has a strong presence that makes him very watchable but he’s not given enough emotional work to do here as Jackson’s life begins to unravel. The chemistry between the friends is also weak and it’s hard to believe that Gil’s need for revenge has taken so long to surface.
“Game of Silence” has time to unspool as a thoughtful consideration of how the past shapes the future but instead rushes from one reveal to another, sacrificing depth and meaning in the process. I’ll be sitting this game out.
“Game of Silence” is on Thursdays at 10 p.m. EDT on NBC.
— Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.