FX is making a big push to become your favorite cable network this year. Its big Fargo quasi-adaptation just finished up a tremendous 10-week run, and the very high-profile Guillermo Del Toro/Carlton Cuse joint The Strain is on the way. Meanwhile, snuggled in between those two offerings is Tyrant, a juicy family soap with a political backdrop in the Middle East. But is the show worth checking out, or the kind of thing you'll want to rally against in the digital streets? Find out in the latest edition of Hey TV.com, What's Up With All That Orange Sand?!
Tyrant? That doesn't sound especially fun, does it?
Well, not really, no. This is not a bright and cheery story, that's for sure. Tyrant centers on a pediatrician who left his home country in the Middle East and settled in L.A. to escape his tyrannical dictator of a father, his self-destructive older brother, and all the bloodshed and political unrest he'd grown up with. After years of running from his past, he returns home for a big wedding to discover that many things have changed—but many have not.
Who is guiding the tyranny and who are the poor saps experiencing it?
Oh boy, is this part interesting. If you haven't followed the production troubles behind the scenes of this sucker, you're missing out. The original idea for Tyrant came from Gideon Raff—who created the original Israeli series that Homeland is based on and who helped adapt the Showtime drama—and his Homeland buddy, super-producer Howard Gordon. Along the way, Raff and Gordon disagreed over how to move forward, so the former left the show and Craig Wright (Six Feet Under, Dirty Sexy Money) came on to help. Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi) was supposed to direct the pilot and guide the show's visual template, but dropped out at the last minute, to be replaced by David Yates (the last few Harry Potter films). Got all that? Good.
The cast is full of people you'll probably recognize, even if you don't know their names. Brit actor Adam Rayner (Hawthorne, Hunted) plays the conflicted pediatrician Bassam "Barry" Al-Fayeed, and Jennifer Finnigan (Close to Home, Better With You) is his American wife Molly. Ashraf Barhom (The Kingdom, Clash of the Titans) is Barry's violent, scummy older brother Jamal, who is next in line for the presidency, and Moran Atias (Crash, The Next Three Days) is his wife Leila. Rounding out the cast are Nasser Faris (Homeland, 24) as Barry's dad, the aforementioned tyrannical dictator Khaled Al-Fayeed; Justin Kirk (Weeds, Animal Practice) as U.S. embassy representative John Tucker; and Fares Fares (Zero Dark Thirty) as Barry's old friend who's currently a freedom-fighting journalist. There are also some bratty kids, but let's not worry about them right now.
When does Tyrant's reign begin?
Tyrant takes office on Tuesday, June 24, at 10pm on FX. It slides right into the Sons of Anarchy-Justified-Fargo time slot.
Who might be receptive to Tyrant's policies?
Don't let the Middle Eastern setting and political underpinnings scare you away. If you like soapy, glossy family dramas with big casts, this is a show you'll enjoy quite a bit. But if you happen to have a real interest in the backdrop and the politics, there's enough scheming and chatter about the sociocultural climate for you to chew on. Despite what the creative team's history might suggest, Tyrant isn't really a thriller in the Homeland vein.
What about Tyrant is worth following?
There's a lot to like here. The pilot moves through some familiar beats—a moment near the end that's intended to be a big shock is telegraphed much earlier simply due to editing—but the story itself, particularly in this setting, is so appealing that said familiarity is very easy to forgive. The great thing about Tyrant is that it isn't really ashamed of its focus on the intricacies of this odd, powerful family, despite the fact that it could ramp up the political intrigue, the murder, and all kinds of other stuff pretty easily. The cast is pretty good; Rayner makes some choices that take a bit of time to get used to, but by the end of the first hour, you see why he's making them. Shooting on location in Israel brings an immediate sense of place (even if the story is set in a fictional country) and helps Tyrant look different than anything else on TV this summer.
What about Tyrant should we consider overthrowing?
Despite the familiarity of the pilot, this is one of those shows where you watch the first episode and wonder for at least a few minutes what the show is going to look like on a week-to-week basis. The macro story is certainly present, but I'm curious as to the writers will develop the individual threads.
Elsewhere, as I alluded to earlier, the presence of Barry's teenage kids is a bit of a drag. It's not easy to get those character types right, and Tyrant actually does a better job than most. But they're still annoying. And I mean, it's probably worth mentioning that it's kind of weird and uncomfortable that the show hired a British dude for the leading role and just gave him a tan. It's hard to let that go while you're watching the first episode.
So, should I let Tyrant exercise its power over me?
I think so. The good significantly outweighs the bad, at least early on. The creative pedigree behind Tyrant gives me confidence that it could become something really cool, and if I'm wrong and the behind-the-scenes turmoil means that it'll skid off the rails very, very quickly, then that should be pretty entertaining too. It's a win-win!
Do you have a trailer for me?
Of course I do! Here ya go.
Tyrant premieres Tuesday, June 24 at 10pm on FX.
AIRED ON 9/1/2015
Season 2 : Episode 12