Tyrant Series Premiere Review “Pilot”

Tyrant Series Premiere Pilot (4)

Lots of shows generate heat prior to their premieres. Plenty of high profile shows also have various issues during the production phase. Very few of them are capable of both. But that’s what we have with FX’s newest drama, Tyrant. The myriad of issues that befell Tyrant during the production phase have been well spelled out in numerous places. Ang Lee dropped it as director. The original co-creator followed suit. Yet somehow, the series still made it air. Some of the buzz had certainly diminished, but it was still there.

Unfortunately, the pilot for Tyrant does not hold up to the lofty standards originally set for it. There are some aspects of the pilot that function quite well and seem to tease at something more. Despite losing an Oscar winner to direct the pilot, the pilot is a wonderfully crafted piece of television. The decadence and opulence of life in the palace plays as sharp contrast to the downtrodden city streets. With the pilot set in Morocco (subsequent episodes were filmed in Israel), the show is able to cull together enough shots to make the fictional country of Abbudin appear like a real place. While the political intrigue of the show stems from crazier and crazier circumstances, the narrative gymnastics involved to get our leading man, Bassam “Barry” Al Fayeed into staying in his home country (where his father is the dictator) could bare fruit down the road.

However, it’s tough to assume fruit will bare when so many of the show’s characters are written so poorly. Adam Raynor is extremely problematic as our leading man, and his ethnicity is the least of the show’s concerns. Raynor had to reaudition for the part after the pilot was shot, so it’s clear the creative team isn’t sold on his ability to sell this show. He’s trying to play a strong, silent type, but he seems to have very little idea of how to go about doing it. Quiet and subtle can be valuable traits for an actor. Here, Raynor completely whiffs on how to do it right.

Of course, he’s far from the only issue on the show. Barry’s crazy brother, Jamal, manages multiple rapes during the episode, drives his red sports car while loudly listening to classic rock, and is aggressively violent in situations simply because he’s the son of a dictator, and he can. Introducing Jamal as this high level of psycho doesn’t leave many places for the show to go with him. With Barry now stuck in the country, the arguments over what to do with political dissidents can now begin.

Despite Jamal’s cartoon level insanity, I would rather watch him than another second of Barry’s completely tone deaf family. The pilot doesn’t give daughter Emma a lot to do besides sneer and roll her eyes (Because what else would a teenager do?), and his son Sammy could be an early front runner for worst teenager on television. His backstory is interesting enough (openly gay teen going to fundamentalist country), but any punch that may have had goes right out the window as his teenage petulance manifests itself when he doesn’t want to leave the palace pool. It’s almost a joy to watch him get slapped twice by his father towards the end of the pilot. I’m not sure that’s the feeling I should have there.

Yet no one comes off worse than Barry’s wife, Molly. Despite all the real-world name dropping done in the pilot, it seems Molly has no concept of life in despotic Middle Eastern nations (Doesn’t she have Twitter… or the news?). Her idea for Barry to settle things with his murderous father by “talking it out” just makes her sound dumb. As if it weren’t enough, she chooses an international incident to have questions about her 19 year marriage. She seems lost in her own world with no connection to the one the show is actually trying to portray. Of course, it’s hard to blame her: The show seems every bit as lost as she is.