×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Tyrant’

With:
Adam Rayner, Jennifer Finnegan, Ashraf Barhom, Moran Atias, Noah Silver, Anne Winters, Fares Fares, Salim Daw, Justin Kirk, Mehdi Dehbi, Alice Krige, Nasser Faris

More than most pilots, “Tyrant’s” first hour is all preamble — the necessary buildup and narrative contortions to establish its provocative if implausible premise. As such, it’s a solid but not particularly distinguished effort, one that requires a significant suspension of disbelief to explore its insights about the Middle East, and the nature of the strongmen who have held sway there. In that respect, this handsome-looking FX drama from the producers of “Homeland” is perhaps a logical companion to that series, but at least in its initial incarnation, not a fully worthy heir.

Because of the pilot’s nature this review will be filled with unavoidable spoilers, so be warned, if you’d like the takeoff to be minty fresh, please disembark now.

Adam Rayner is Barry (born Bassam Al-Fayeed), the pediatrician son of the dictator of a fictitious Arab country, who has been living in the U.S. and married to a loving wife (Jennifer Finnegan) for 19 years. Father to two teenagers, Barry’s inordinately reluctant to discuss his own youth, but grudgingly agrees to journey home to attend the wedding of his nephew.

Written by Gideon Raff (creator of the Israeli inspiration for “Homeland,” working in concert with that show’s exec producer, Howard Gordon), “Tyrant” requires a staggering series of coincidences to get from there to where the show is ultimately heading.

First, Barry is reunited with his hot-headed brute of a brother (Ashraf Barhom), who is clearly prone to abuse his privilege and power. He then meets with his father (Nasser Faris), who notes that “Saddam and Gaddafi are dead,” suggesting in this era of the Arab spring he might be living on borrowed time as well.

Soon enough, dad is indeed out of the picture, and the brother is, well, incapacitated. That leaves Barry in the uncomfortable position of being asked to help fill the void — essentially, manage the family business.

All that might be more intriguing were it not for the way the show handles Barry’s family. All right, dad has been reluctant to talk about home and the disturbing aspects of his youth, but we’re expected to believe his wife and kids are completely naïve about what’s been going on there — so much so that his son (Noah Silver) acts positively giddy about hanging around a palace, and his wife doesn’t understand Barry’s perpetually pained expressions. (Not to be uncharitable, but in the kids there are early hints about what might be called, in “Homeland” terms, Dana Brody syndrome.)

Because there is so much grim business to be conducted, “Tyrant” races through these scenarios with workmanlike efficiency, but also a rather thudding earnestness. Indeed, Justin Kirk’s unctuous U.S. diplomat, even with modest screen time, emerges a breath of fresh air.

Although subsequent episodes address some of these concerns, they don’t adequately resolve them. And while the subject matter certainly feels timely given chaotic events abroad and the show possesses a strong creative pedigree, it also suffers from a sense of self-importance that drags at the whole exercise.

FX is coming off a high note, creatively speaking, thanks to “Fargo,” and “Tyrant” aspires to inclusion in that esteemed tier of cable dramas. Advance criticism over the show’s depiction of Arabs and Muslims has already generated controversy, which should garner additional attention. Thus far, however, this look at power and its pitfalls at best offers the illusion of significance — a mere pretender in TV’s game of thrones.

 

Popular on Variety

TV Review: 'Tyrant'

(Series; FX, Tue. June 24, 10 p.m.)

Production: Filmed in Israel by Teakwood Lane Prods. and Keshet in association with Fox 21 and FX Prods.

Crew: Executive producers, Howard Gordon, Craig Wright, Glenn Gordon Caron, Gideon Raff, David Yates, Michael Lehmann, Peter Noah, Avi Nir; co-executive producer, Chris Levinson; producer, Dennis Hammer; director, Yates; writer, Raff; camera, Itai Neeman; production designer, Cece De Stefano; editor, Matt Chesse; music, Mychael Danna, Jeff Danna; casting, Amy Hubbard, Hila Yuval. 80 MIN.

Cast: Adam Rayner, Jennifer Finnegan, Ashraf Barhom, Moran Atias, Noah Silver, Anne Winters, Fares Fares, Salim Daw, Justin Kirk, Mehdi Dehbi, Alice Krige, Nasser Faris

More TV

  • Patria

    HBO Europe Unveils ‘Patria’ Footage to Captive San Sebastian Audience

    SAN SEBASTIAN — Amid large expectation, HBO Europe has revealed first footage giving a first sense of tone and pace of its Spanish original series “Patria.” A packed-to-overflowing press conference on Saturday morning at the San Sebastian Festival can be read as one sign of the potential popularity of the eight-part series. The panel sneak-peek [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • Peter Weber and Mike Johnson

    'The Bachelor's' Mike Johnson on Diversity and New Leading Man Peter Weber

    ABC named its newest star of “The Bachelor” this week, officially making Peter Weber the leading man for Season 24 of the long-running dating show. Social media backlash ensued following the announcement due to ABC’s selection lacking diversity, yet again. Since the dating franchise began in 2002, there has been only one “Bachelorette” of color [...]

  • ABC Studios Logo

    ABC Studios Head of Alternative Fernando Hernandez Exits

    ABC Studios’ head of alternative Fernando Hernandez has departed from his post at the Disney-owned television studio, a source familiar with the situation told Variety. The Hollywood Reporter first reported the news. Hernandez’s exit follows an executive shuffling at the top in recent months that has included the departure of Amy Hartwick, ABC Studio’s head [...]

  • Rob Cowan, Greg Silverman'The Conjuring 2'

    Greg Silverman’s Stampede, School of Rock Team for Unscripted Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Former president of Warner Bros. Pictures Greg Silverman is partnering with School of Rock through his content creation company Stampede. The collaboration with the music school will create exclusive content, starting with the development of an unscripted series.  School of Rock operates a network of performance-based education franchises that offer students of all ages guidance [...]

  • TV Roundup: Erica Durance Reprises 'Smallville'

    TV News Roundup: Erica Durance Reprises 'Smallville' Role in 'Arrowverse' Crossover

    In today’s TV news roundup, Erica Durance reprises her “Smallville” role in the CW’s annual “Arrowverse” crossover, and Showtime shares with Variety an exclusive sneak peek at the return of “The Circus.” FIRST LOOKS “2020 is the most important election of our lifetime,” Alex Wagner says in a new trailer for the fourth season of [...]

  • Patrick Whitesell and Ari Emanuel WME

    Endeavor Targets Sept. 27 for Stock Debut, IPO Video Tells Company's Origin Story

    After years of preparation, Endeavor is set to make its formal Wall Street debut on Sept. 27, when its stock will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Endeavor has targeted Sept. 26 for the final pricing of its shares. The stock will trade publicly the following day. Earlier this week, Endeavor said its [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content