Upon first reading the premise of Tyrant, the new drama from FX, I was intrigued for two reasons.
For starters, a show set in a Middle Eastern country, although a fictional one named Abbudin, is something definitively lacking on television at the moment. Given the current political climate, this setting seems like a no brainer, if handled correctly. Tyrant was created by Gideon Raff, known for the Israeli drama, Prisoners of War, that was later adapted for American audiences as Homeland. Add into the mix Howard Gordon, also known for his work on Homeland and 24, and Tyrant sounds like a decent fit.
Tyrant also has the kind of premise that appeals to the Godfather junkie in me. Bassam “Barry” Al Fayeed (Adam Rayner), the second son of the dictator of Abbudimn. Barry has been loving in LA for 20 years, as part of a self imposed exile, where he’s built a family and a career as a pediatrician. News of Barry’s nephew’s wedding arrives, and Barry decides to return home with family in tow for the nuptials. The resulting culture clash and a dangerous development mean Barry and family will remain in Abbudin for the time being.
But the problem for Tyrant is also in this premise: how can the show build drama and raise stakes when all Barry has to do is grab the wife and kids and hop on a plane? It seems like a fatal flaw and the characterizations don’t do much to distract us from it. Barry’s wife, Molly (Jennifer Finnigan), is strangely clueless about Barry’s secrecy about his past, even after arriving in Abbudin where things should become obvious. Barry and Molly have two teenage children, Emma (Anne Winters) and Sammy (Noah Silver), both determined to out-grate Homeland’s Dana Brody. Barry’s older brother, Jamal (Ashraf Barhom), is interesting, despite striking the typical evil notes while Leila (Moran Atias), Jamal’s wife gives us an insider look at the culture at large. John Tucker (Justin Kirk) provides another interesting angle as an American diplomat with an agenda.
Tyrant’s pilot never quite manages to reach its goal of being in the same league as other premiere cable dramas. There’s still time for the show to tweak these characters and develop a more airtight storytelling.
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