Game Of Silence doesn’t only suffer from one of the least compelling titles in television history. It’s based on a Turkish series that itself had more than a few things in common with the 1996 film Sleepers, in which a group of childhood friends get sent to a nightmarish juvenile detention center after a youthful escapade goes wrong. As adults, they reconnect to take down those who abused them in juvie, helped by the leader of the pack who is now an attorney.
That plot worked well enough for a two-hour Barry Levinson movie, but as a full-fledged NBC series? The jury is still out. The series’ foundation of kids getting physically and sexually abused is tough to take, compounded by a string of unsettling violent acts. In just the first few episodes, we see a man suffocated with a plastic bag, someone get shivved, and someone else killed with a golf club. Children are beaten with belts, forced to fight each other in a cage, and horrifically disfigured by chemicals. Apparently these images are supposed to be horrific enough to entice us into wanting to see the perpetrators eventually get their ultimate beat-down, but as the series drags on, they’re not enough to entice the viewer into giving up their Thursday nights.
What Game Of Silence could use is a compelling whodunnit, but that’s not happening either. There’s a mystery by the end of the first episode about an attack on a former guard, but since he’s obviously a horrible person who deserved to die in the most heinous way possible, who cares? There’s also an overarching conspiracy tied to a crime syndicate and drug trade in Houston and the former warden’s political career, which may be aiming for The Wire, but is hardly The Wire.
An enticing cast could help, but Game Of Silence falls short here too. As the only member of the gang to escape his hometown of Brennan, Texas, attorney Jackson (David Lyons) has the most to lose, a partnership at a prestigious Houston law firm where his haughty fiancée also works. As Jackson, Lyons plays what is essentially Brad Pitt’s part in Sleepers, but he is no Brad Pitt (his gritty accent, an attempt to hide his Australian roots, doesn’t help much). Offering nothing but lies to his perfectly nice but long-suffering fiancée, he helps out his old friends by trying to build a case against their former attackers, where the friends would prefer to deal in straight-up violence. Michael Raymond-James as sexual-abuse survivor Gil especially has some well-played moments, as he tries to get truth out of an old guard by basically making him eat a gun. He’s determined to get at what really happened in the prison, even as he tells Jackson that he’d rather die than have anyone else know about it; as always, Raymond-James rises above the material he is given, but it’s still tough to watch. Larenz Tate also steps up as Shawn, one of the pals, but a car conversation intended to highlight the former friends’ old closeness just feels forced.
We’ve seen enough crime dramas or procedurals at this point to identify the clichés from miles away. Anyone who gives videotaped evidence is obviously not long for this world. Jackson’s old flame, Jessie (Bre Blair), is now with his old buddy Gil, but there’s not one chance in a million that they’re not going to hook up at someone point. The spot-on cast playing young versions of the gang is excellent, as is the 1988 flashback soundtrack. (There’s an especially effective scene where we see how young Shawn was greeted with racism at every door but Gil’s.) But that just makes it harder to see these kids we like tied up and dragged away screaming in an institution that makes the hospital in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest look like a Hilton.
Game Of Silence taunts with promises of finding solace in the truth, and strength in friendship. But it wades through so much disgusting muck to get there, it seems unlikely that the payoff, when it finally arrives, will actually be worth it.