Give the team behind “The Consultant” this much — they managed to find just the right lead.
Christoph Waltz, whose glower and verbosity have won him two Academy Awards, surfaces now on Amazon Prime Video as a malign expert in business and in manipulation. After a tragedy involving the founder of the app gaming outfit CompWare (the name may give a sense of how carefully the script is written), Waltz’s Regus Patoff enters to right the ship. His claim on the company is unclear to its employees, but soon enough, he’s occupying close to all of their mental real estate, calling them at all hours and asking invasive personal questions that some force of charisma or of mind control makes them feel compelled to answer.
Two of those employees are played by Nat Wolff and Brittany O’Grady, able young talents. O’Grady, last seen sneering over the top of a book on the first season of “The White Lotus,” radiates intellect, and her character seems to be playing Regus as often as he seems to be insinuating himself into the psyche of Wolff’s character. In the latter case, Regus insists upon joining his young employee for beers and questions every element of his life, seeding doubt; in the former, O’Grady excels at playing a game of people-pleasing even despite her rising suspicion something is badly awry.
The show has a sinuous and creepy charm, though I can’t deny that at times I wished it were a touch more cerebral. Little wonder that Regus’ mind games take hold so effectively: The show, as written, often doesn’t make it a fair fight. And “The Consultant’s” flashbacks and reversals hold interest but can’t quite conceal that the story is, in its essence, a vignette stretched to eight episodes.
Still, it’s an engaging watch, with Waltz in fine form; indeed, the relentlessly garrulous actor is at his most interesting in the spaces between lines, when he radiates a genteel hostility. The chaos he creates has diminishing returns — as with so many things, once you realize that, for Regus, anything is possible, then the proceedings come to feel somewhat weightless. But the central performances on “The Consultant,” as well as sharp direction and editing, keep it afloat. And its theme, the workplace’s encroachment onto all aspects of one’s personal life, seems as resonant at this moment as ever before. The manner it’s explored is fanciful and at times frankly silly, but it’s just enough to serve as intellectual ballast on a show that’s otherwise (mainly) pleasantly goofy.
“The Consultant” will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, February 24.