A grim test of endurance, Game of Silence wants to do honorably by its subject matter while also luring you in with lurid shocks. It’s a combination that cannot hold itself together. Beginning Tuesday on NBC, Silence is about friends who share a common trauma: As young boys, they spent nine months in a juvenile detention center where helpless youths were routinely beaten and sexually abused. Now adults, they band together to get revenge.
From the start, however, the show is off-putting on a couple of levels. First of all, even in the present-day, everyone is miserable. Jackson Brooks (Revolution’s David Lyons) may be a successful lawyer on the verge of marrying his attorney-sweetheart, but his happy future is brought to a halt when four childhood friends re-enter his life. One of them, Boots (Friday Night Lights’ Derek Phillips), has just assaulted a former guard from the detention center and needs legal help, which in turn puts the two of them in touch with three other pals — we see flashback scenes of what a tight crew of chums they were in more innocent days.
Although they’ve all been living in the Houston, Texas, area for 25 years, Boots’ assault charge is the inciting incident that brings them together and commences a series of get-even scenes. That premise seems rather unbelievable, especially since one of the friends, Gil (True Blood’s Michael Raymond James), is a very loose cannon with impulse-control problems, by which I mean that a couple of hours into Game of Silence, he’s threatening another of the institution’s guards by putting a gun in the guy’s mouth. Another friend, Larenz Tate’s Shawn, is caught in the middle of conflicting moods of rage and sorrow. Soon enough, their ultimate target — the sadistic warden who presided over the nightmarish conditions (Conor O’Farrell) — looms large in their lives again, especially because he’s just publicly announced a run for Congress.
There are a lot of flashbacks to the harrowing life in “juvie,” and Silence does a convincing job of conveying the horror of it all, to the point where I was fast-forwarding through a few of the beatings. You can guess where some of this drama goes. Jackson, because he’s a business-suited professional, wants to go the legal route, but the unstable working-man Gil wants to chart a bloodier path. Writer-producer David Hudgins (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood) adapted this series from a Turkish series, Suskunlar, and he does his best to balance the past and present of these characters. Still, I found it difficult to keep watching, knowing that every smile on every face would inevitably be wiped away, and a fresh psychic (or physical) wound applied.
Game of Silence premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on NBC; its regular time period will be Thursdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.