Believe it or not, James Spader’s The Blacklist has been on the airwaves for 8 seasons now. It is a series that was the talk of the town for its first few seasons, then it leveled off to remain a constant solid entry for NBC. Now, though, it appears the series is finding new life and fans in the streaming world as it is the #10 most-watched show on Amazon Prime in the USA and it is the #11 show, and climbing, on IMDB TV.
When The Blacklist ran its pilot in 2013, the James Spader-led drama series was an immediate hit. Spader plays Raymond “Red” Reddington, a mastermind criminal who has been on the FBI’s most-wanted list for decades. He shocks the law enforcement entity when he walks into the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C., surrendering himself to Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix), the FBI Assistant Director. After being whisked away to an FBI black site, Red informs Cooper that he wishes to help the FBI track down former associates of his – criminals and terrorists he’s worked with over the past two decades that are so dangerous, deadly, and devious that their existence isn’t even known to the United States government.
Of course, Red’s offer doesn’t come without conditions, of which he has two. The first is that he will help the FBI track down every single one if he gets immunity from prosecution. His second more unconventional request is that he will work exclusively with only one agent, a rookie FBI profiler named Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), who just came under Cooper’s command. Cooper doesn’t wish to take the highly intellectual Red at his word, so Red is given a test. He is to help the FBI track down and take out a known terrorist. As Red passes the test with flying colors, he informs Cooper that this terrorist is one of the many on his list of global criminals with which Red will help hunt down. They are in business as Cooper fulfills his part by allowing Red to work with Keen. Thus, the series is set.
For the bulk of the eight seasons, each episode features one of the many criminals James Spader’s Red has associated himself with. Each episode also displays to the viewers the name of the criminal and where they rank on Red’s criminal blacklist. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, it is the formula of the series. Along the way, viewers get clues as to why Red will only work with Keen other than Red telling Cooper that she is “very special” to him.
James Spader was not the first choice to play Red, according to series showrunner John Eisendrath. The initial offer from NBC went to Kiefer Sutherland, who ultimately turned it down. They then took the offer to Spader, who loved the idea. “I just thought it was a neat show,” Spader said via The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve done a little bit of series work in the past, and what little I knew about it was you better make a choice to play a character that’s going to sustain, [one] that you can be curious about over a long span of time. Questions are going to go unanswered for a while, not only for the audience but for me as well. This character seemed like that. … This guy was such a strange mix of someone who is dangerous and scary at times but also compelling, and part of that is his sense of humor.”
Things were a little different for Megan Boone, who took a week’s worth of preparation before her initial audition which, in her eyes, went well. “In that meeting, I just kind of put it all out on the table. I probably gave one of the better auditions of my career because it was one of the more important ones to me,” she said to The TV Addict. It didn’t stop at just one audition but many. Each time she went in, she tried different angles. “I kept going back in and back in and back in, kind of rediscovering or discovering new things about who she was in the rooms with them, because you can’t ever really repeat the same thing you did last time.” It worked.
For the 61-year-old James Spader, The Blacklist represents a nice capper to a wonderfully eclectic career. He has seen his share of stand-out features that include Pretty in Pink, Wall Street, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Stargate, the highly controversial David Cronenberg Crash, and Critical Care. He was also the voice of Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron. But Spader also has had his share of TV series hits. He was on The Practice, Boston Legal, and even spent two seasons (the final two) on the hit series The Office before he jumped on board The Blacklist.
Thankfully for fans new and old, they will have more Red Reddington stories to enjoy. After only three episodes of season 8, NBC renewed the series for season 9. You can binge it and catch up on James Spader’s exploits on Amazon Prime as well as IMDB TV.