"Matrix" is a new series on USA Network starring Nick Mancuso as ex-hitman Steven Matrix. The twist is that this former assassin, having had a near-death experience (finding himself on the shore of an ocean of fire), must now devote his life to "special assignments" to prove that he doesn't belong in hell.
Having completed roles in two feature films ("Rapid Fire" and "Under Siege"), Mancuso found himself lured back to episodic television by the intriguing possibilities of the series.
"There is a somewhat classic element to the show, and a main character who epitomizes the outlaw hero," says Mancuso. "We're trying to deal with the internal values of this guy, and I think he's going to be someone that we've never seen before."
To guide him on his assignments will be agents from the City in Between, a limbo between heaven, hell and Earth.
"This is a man who had really come to the end of his rope," says Mancuso. "If it weren't for this brush with death, he would have probably soon committed suicide or ended up being killed."
Instead, Matrix will go through a process of confronting what he once was, and attempt to become a new person.
"The central idea, or question, of the show is," says Mancuso, "can one be redeemed? Is it possible to change?"
Dealing with such weighty issues on a weekly action TV show may be a struggle. If not careful, the tone of the series could turn quickly into high camp.
"We have to really walk a fine line," Mancuso acknowledges. "TV writing tends to be facile, so it's very difficult to balance between camp and a level of seriousness and reality."
Because of the mix of fantasy and action, "Matrix" has the markings of becoming a novelty or cult show among dedicated viewers.
"I had a cult show with 'Stingray,' a series which I still get mail about," says Mancuso. "But I don't know if I'd like to be a 'cult favorite' because there's a negative connotation with that--usually denoting a failure that happened to catch on with a small, but devoted segment of the audience."
"Matrix," shot on location in Toronto, has proven to be hard work. Having gotten used to the more leisurely pace of feature films, Mancuso found himself thrown back into the hectic schedule of 14- to 16-hour days.
"We're still developing the background of this formerly cold-blooded killer," the actor says. "We'll be filling in the pieces as we go along, hoping that the audience will come with us.'
"Matrix" airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on USA.