TV Review: ‘Patriot’ on Amazon

Patriot Amazon
Courtesy of Amazon

One of the great things about the spy genre is its elasticity: It can accommodate the cerebral melancholy of “The Americans,” the adrenalized immediacy of the Jason Bourne films, the suave adventure of the James Bond movies and the kind of delightful escapism NBC’s “Chuck” provided for five seasons.

What it can’t support, as demonstrated by the insufferable Amazon series “Patriot,” is forced whimsy gone very wrong.

“Patriot” at least tries something novel: It transplants the sensibilities of a Wes Anderson film into the world of spies and their associates. Burned-out operative John Tavner (Michael Dorman) gets a job at a Milwaukee firm that is set to take care of Iran’s piping needs, but his secret mission is to prevent the country from making its nuclear program operational. His pragmatic father, Tom (Terry O’Quinn), runs the State Department’s espionage program, and his rather passive brother, Edward (Michael Chernus), is a U.S. congressman. Completing the trio of men around John is Leslie Claret (Kurtwood Smith), John’s irascible new boss at the piping firm.

It’s a fairly solid premise for a secret-agent caper, and “Patriot” squanders it completely.

John is a bland, depressed man who routinely does unpleasant things, which would be fine if his moroseness or his violent acts were compelling in any way. But nothing about his plight or personality is interesting, and that’s just one of the ways in which “Patriot” departs from the kind of deadpan, slightly askew works that it inexpertly imitates. As for his mission, it goes wrong in ways that seem entirely predictable, and the attempts at dry office comedy rarely land with any impact. 

A very wry comedy-drama hybrid does not necessarily have to prominently feature characters who are deep or three-dimensional. But at the very least, they should be charismatic or amusing, or participate in quests worth following. John has absolutely nothing going for him, nor are the other characters memorable, aside from Smith’s understandably frustrated Leslie Claret.

One of “Patriot’s” main problems is, John and the characters closest to him operate in a high-stakes world in which men, women and children can and do get hurt. The characters don’t seem to care much about any of the damage they do or inadvertently cause— some of which is played for laughs — and yet the show still wants to wring pathos out of various difficult situations and dilemmas. This dismissiveness and even condescension is not only deeply annoying, it destroys the program’s attempts to create a delicate and mildly irreverent tone. In trying to have it both ways — creating situations in which the stakes matter and they’re also laughable obstacles — the show all too frequently misfires in both directions. 

At first, it’s nice to see TV veterans O’Quinn and Smith on screen again, but soon it becomes grating to see such talented actors trapped in such an airless, self-indulgent and smug story. John’s adventures in Milwaukee and Europe grind out at a glacial pace — if ever a show should have stuck to a half-hour running time, it’s this one. And every so often, “Patriot” stops cold so that John, an aspiring folk singer in his spare time, can sing a tune about the questionable things he’s done for the government. Though his singing voice is passable, the tiresome songs provide yet more false notes among many. 

TV Review: 'Patriot' on Amazon

Production

Drama; 10 episodes (2 viewed); Amazon, Fri., Feb. 24. 60 min.

Crew

Executive producers, Steven Conrad, James Parriott, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, Charles Gogolak, Gil Bellows.

Cast

Michael Dorman, Terry O’Quinn, Kurtwood Smith, Michael Chernus, Kathleen Munroe, Aliette Opheim

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  1. Mr. T. says:

    Sorry, but i REALLY liked the show. Fargo-y, Lanthimos-y at times, not for everyone, for sure. Very dark humor, great soundtrack, nonsensical situations, 2 minute long rochambeau scenes make for a very unique tv show, which is quite something in peak TV.

  2. John C Jones says:

    I completely disagree with this review. Patriot is brilliantly written, directed, acted, and so on. Everything about it was so skillfully pieced together. I’m in love!

  3. Andy says:

    I totally disagree with most of this review. I really liked Patriot and lots of the aspects that simply didn’t work for the reviewer did work for me. So, in this respect it’s just a differences of opinion here — what works for some just doesn’t work for others.

    But saying there weren’t memorable characters in the series is just completely off-base. Even the more minor characters are memorable, and for very different reasons. There’s Ichabod with his name and appearance, Edward with his tracksuits, attache badge and Beastie Boys shtick, Agathe and the all-female homicide department, Stephen and his head injury, etc, etc.

    I could genuinely keep going and I watched it over a month ago. Some of the characters are almost cartoonish in their traits.

    Anyway, it seems like 80 per cent of the criticisms in the review are based on the series feeling smug, which I think had a purpose within the show, in that it contrasts against John’s depression/situation.

  4. Csf says:

    Nailed it. Great review.

  5. The reviewer gets it wrong here in a big way. I’ve never seen a black comedy that is as richly woven, as subtle and beautiful as Patriot, in the ‘deadpan,’ wilted leaf presence of Lakeman, who nails depression bigtime. The subtlety of relationships between two brothers and a megalomaniac, manipulative father is so finely done. Is depression funny? Ya, in the hands of these writers, actors dircetors. Anyone interested in a spy story that goes beyond shoot em up action and slinky, long legged dames barely clad should check this out. I advise the reviewer to take a second look and get beyond their iron clad convictions.

  6. The glacial speed and deadpan humor here had me in stitches consistently. I guess then it all depends on what kind of humor grabs you. This did it for me. It is bizarre and unrealistic and yes indulgent, but it was soothing to see this otherworldly comedy of errors unfold.

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