TV review: “Tyrant” is hard to gauge

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From the June 19, 2014 edition

FX’s new series, “Tyrant,” from “Homeland” alums Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff, has an interesting premise, delving into the world of the Middle East. The problem is it’s hard to figure out where this solid premise will go after screening only the pilot episode.

The show centers on an American family whose patriarch, Bassam “Barry” Al Fayeed (Adam Rayner), is the son of a Middle Eastern dictator. The family heads to Barry’s homeland for the first time in 20 years, and there’s a lot to play with in the West-meets-Middle-East dynamic.

As the youngest son, Barry has never been as important to his father (Nasser Faris) as older brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom), who is the heir apparent. Thus, Barry left for America and started his own family. Returning home for his nephew’s wedding is rife with culture clash, familial strife and political differences.

Barry’s wife Molly (Jennifer Finnigan) and son Sam (Noah Silver) are curious to see their relatives and visit this strange land. Daughter Emma (Anne Winters) can sense her father’s apprehension and isn’t pleased about the trip. Once in the fictional Middle Eastern country, it becomes clear (through both the current machinations by the Al Fayeeds and childhood flashbacks) why Barry left.

Where “Tyrant” offers some interesting character interactions, it also presents some fairly rote storytelling. Judging only the one episode — which apparently had a whole bunch of problems during production —“Tyrant” isn’t something to get really excited about. Given the fresh premise — Americans in a turbulent foreign land — “Tyrant” could be intriguing.

I’m somewhat skeptical because a few of the central characters get poor treatment. Molly is the typical unhappy wife who’s merely an obstacle for Barry, and Finnigan doesn’t do much to improve it. Jamal is clearly a villain — and Barhom is menacing — but I need more depth to him. Barry is pure strong-silent type, and most of his development is conveyed through events, not the character.

FX has earned the benefit of the doubt — right there with HBO in the original programming game — so I’ll give “Tyrant” some leeway. But the flaws in the pilot need to be remedied quickly.

Photo courtesy FX