TV Review: ‘American Odyssey’

American Odyssey cancelled
Courtesy of NBC

NBC describes “American Odyssey” as “’Traffic’-like,” which might explain the lack of inspiration permeating this multi-pronged drama, which, much like sibling USA’s “Dig,” hinges on a vast (and tedious) conspiracy. The intersecting threads involve a U.S. soldier in North Africa, a corporate lawyer and an Occupy-type political activist, each embroiled in a monstrous plot reaching up and into government. First-rate casting — including Anna Friel, Peter Facinelli and Treat Williams — can’t obscure the been-there, seen-that sensation, which doesn’t spur much curiosity about how these tentacles connect or offer much hope the show will last long enough to find out.

Friel (“Pushing Daisies”) plays the soldier, Sgt. Odelle Ballard, who while on a mission in Mali pursuing a wanted terrorist stumbles across computer files revealing a major corporation is providing money to the Jihadists. When she offers an inkling of what she has learned to higher-ups — namely, a senior officer played by Williams — a kill squad is dispatched (under the command of “Lost’s” Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), forcing Ballard to go on the run while she’s presumed dead by her husband (“The Wire’s” Jim True-Frost) and family.

Meanwhile, a New York attorney (Facinelli) working on a merger with the same company makes his own potentially dangerous discovery, and the aforementioned activist (Jake Robinson) becomes privy to information about a possible cover-up related to Ballard’s reported death.

There is, admittedly, quite a lot going on in the handsomely mounted pilot — written by Kay Foster, Adam Armus and director Peter Horton — which rapidly cuts back and forth among these stories and locales. Yet even with the cynicism engendered by Halliburton-like conglomerates during the Iraq war, “American Odyssey” (an 11th-hour name change from “Odyssey,” which probably sounded too Greek) feels strained, tired and devoid of nuance, related less to the disenchantment associated with what’s happening today than the paranoid political thrillers of the 1970s.

Nor does the series gain strength over four subsequent episodes, which gradually advance each of the stories while making the protagonists look particularly overmatched against their shadowy adversaries. Ballard, meanwhile, is subjected to an extended, repetitive, extremely violent and heavily subtitled ordeal that feels like a simple-minded version of “Homeland,” surrounding her with nefarious characters seemingly plucked from a catalogue of evil Arabs.

The show’s best hope, actually, might be divine intervention, hoping some of the potentially beatific ratings from “A.D.: The Bible Continues” — a very different show, even though both are at least partly shot in Morocco — rubs off. It’s worth noting, too, NBC’s spotty track record in paying off these sorts of elaborate “Trust us, we know where this is going” dramas, having failed to resolve “Crisis,” “The Event” or (most recently) “Allegiance.”

While sins of the past shouldn’t be visited on new series, “Odyssey” is complicated enough that viewers are to be forgiven for harboring reservations about getting hooked on a serialized drama that, despite a name that denotes a long and perilous journey, looks conspicuously short on fuel.

TV Review: 'American Odyssey'

(Series; NBC, Sun. April 5, 10 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in New York and Morocco by Fabrik Entertainment, and Red Arrow Entertainment in association with Universal Television.

Crew

Executive producers, Adam Armus, Kay Foster, Peter Horton, Simon Maxwell, Mikkel Bondesen, Henrik Bastin, Kristen Campo; co-executive producer, Amy Kaufman; supervising producer, Julia Ruchman; producers, Devin Rich, Peter McAleese; director, Horton; writers, Armus, Foster, Horton; camera, Yaron Orbach, Balazs Bolygo; production designer, Kristi Zea; editor, Dan Zimmerman; music, ; casting, Linda Lowy, David Caparelliotis, Dan Hubbard, Salah Benchegra. 60 MIN.

Cast

Anna Friel, Peter Facinelli, Jake Robinson, Jim True-Frost, Sadie Sink, Omar Ghazaoui, Nate Mooney, Elena Kampouris, Daniella Pineda, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Treat Williams.

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  1. Karen says:

    I really enjoyed watching Odyssey, plot and the storyline made me watch every episodes. I was expecting and looking forward for the next season…why? Its a shame to find out, it was cancelled….

  2. luz alvira says:

    Odyssey should return, loved it, was waiting for it, everything a good program starts they cut it off.

  3. Clarence Glenn says:

    I am a retired 1SG U.S. Army and one thing that bothers me is when people play parts as soldiers and do not bother to learn how to wear a uniform. At least consult with real soldiers. The guy who playes Colonel Glenn is wearing the beret like the pizza man. The beret should fold to the right pressed down and fall just above the right ear. Not blown up like you are the Italian pizza man. My name is also Glenn so that really stood out with me. Put real soldiers in movies.

  4. Nate says:

    This show is awesome, My mom and I talk about it every week. Wondering whats going to happen next. Hope it stays on tv. We enjoy it.

  5. Susan says:

    I’m enjoying the series very much. Well acted, beautifully filmed, suspenseful, and still interesting to me after 4 episodes. (I guess I missed the first “100” tellings of this story James!)

  6. James says:

    Boring. Boring. Boring. This story had been told a hundred times. Strong woman (must be a woman), government coverup (must have a government coverup) and a convoluted plot. Story writers, please step away from you computer. .. Take a deep breath… Think of something else. Thank you very much.

  7. Stephen says:

    I have only seen the first series, but I could get hooked providing the series doesn’t get bogged drown.

  8. Greggory says:

    Why is this guy tying so hard to bash a new show?? It’s actually very good. Not fair or smart to group it with homeland or allegiance. I’m hooked. I think American Odyssey is legit.

  9. Bill Roland says:

    Why I do not like to watch shows like this! With great men and women that served this country, we pick actors that can not even wear a hat correctly! There is no way you could not have found a Veteran that could have played some of the back up role or even a lead. Just get it right at least.
    Bill Roland Maj (Retired)

  10. chuckvw says:

    What a boneheaded review. Where have you been for the past 20 years? Extraordinary that this project got green lighted and made it to air. We live in a time of dark conspiracies. One needn’t search too far.

  11. I loved the premier. I do believe this is the first TV series of this nature. I will continue to watch this new show to the end , after all it signifies life today no matter what criticism may be said ,it’s not a fantasy this is reality-based and I say bravo to the new series , the writers , the producers the wonderful actors et more shows of people with different cultures are needed.. Thank you

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