For a split second, I actually thought Sean Bean was going to die in the very first scene of "Legends," TNT's new drama series.
But when the unloaded gun pointed at undercover FBI agent Martin Odum went "click," I let out a relieved chuckle. Bean, famous for playing both beloved heroes and reviled villains who meet nasty deaths, has his first starring role on TV since Season 1 of HBO's "Game of Thrones," and I'm guessing Odum won't suffer Ned Stark's hair-raising fate.
"Legends," based on the novel by Robert Littell, is the latest terrorism thriller from producer Howard Gordon, whose credits include "Homeland" and "24." The title refers to the FBI code for assumed identities, of which Odum is a master.
When we first meet him in Wednesday's premiere episode, Odum's undercover as a budding bomber named Lincoln Dittmann, and looks and acts not unlike the unsure, inexperienced Walter White of "Breaking Bad's" first few episodes.
Seeing Bean, a rough-hewed British rogue, play these "legends" will undoubtedly be the series' main attraction -- Dittmann is a disenfranchised American nerd, a far cry from a heroic swordsman of Middle-earth or James Bond's turncoat partner.
After the excitement of the opening sequence, we meet Odum's team at the FBI's Deep Cover Operations division, led by Crystal McGuire (Ali Larter of "Heroes"), who's a dramatic double-whammy: She has a romantic history with Odum, and doesn't think he's fit for duty. In a hail of cliched exposition we meet the rest of the team, including the stone-faced DCO director (Steve Harris of "The Practice") and a spunky, punky computer whiz (Tina Majorino of "Grey's Anatomy") who could pass for the younger sister of "24's" Chloe O'Brian.
Moments later, Odum is back undercover at a strip club near O'Hare airport, and the "Legends" writing team, led by showrunner David Wilcox ("Fringe") finds a way to get Larter out of her tactical garb and into a skimpy outfit. And wouldn't you know it, Crystal needs to have a strategic conversation with Odum just out of earshot of the terrorists, so she gives him a private lap dance.
That's as shameless as it gets, and I hope it's not a harbinger of things to come. Much more promising is the long story arc set up in the pilot's second half, in which Odum confronts a hooded stranger who has been following him. Just before he's stabbed to death by a femme fatale, this stranger tells Odum that he may not be the man he thinks he is. Is "Martin Odum" just another legend?
That hook, and the opportunity to see Bean morph into different personas each week, will be what keeps me interested in "Legends." The cast, which adds Morris Chestnut ("Nurse Jackie") in the second episode, is likable and talented but saddled with eye-rolling dialogue. The first two hours of "Legends" feel a little too much like a CBS procedural for my taste, but this show's pedigree suggests there are great things ahead once we get past these awkward initial steps.
"Legends" airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on TNT.
• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald copy editor and a tireless consumer of pop culture. His favorite Sean Bean movie is obviously "The Fellowship of the Ring," but he has a soft spot for "National Treasure." You can follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.