'Tyrant' review: Tangled Middle Eastern web
THE SHOW "Tyrant"
WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night at 10 on FX
WHAT IT'S ABOUT From Howard Gordon and Glenn Gordon Caron -- native LIers, by the way -- "Tyrant" ends its first season Tuesday night. Key plot points: Jamal (Ashraf Barhom) has imprisoned his uncle, thinking -- or manipulated into thinking -- he is behind the coup to depose him. His brother, Bassam "Barry" Al-Fayeed (Adam Raymer) -- secretly the real brains behind the coup -- faces the loss of his wife, Molly (Jennifer Finnigan) and family, who are about to leave the country.
MY SAY What makes a good show good and a great show great and a bad show . . . insufferable? If you could bottle the answer, you'd be a billionaire or owner of FX, which has done a better job than most in figuring out the distinction. And then came "Tyrant," which seemed to blast the whole idea of Can't-Fail-FX to hell.
It initially -- which is a key word here -- seemed flat, cliched, or worst, a bald-faced stereotype of Arab "bogeymen" who speak in thick accents, have shifty eyes and hair-trigger tempers. The pilot featured a pair of sickening rapes, and a child who blew a man away. I hated it.
So consider this appraisal a redo, or second look: "Tyrant" has actually turned out to be a reasonably good freshman series. Not flawless by any means (that pilot) . . . but good, and here's why: Gordon and Caron have carefully backed their way into a big, interesting idea.
It's hasn't always been clear over the first nine episodes that there was a story -- or at least a believable one -- behind this idea. That's slowly been remedied as well. Two brothers -- one a psychopath, the other a borderline sociopath -- attempting to bring democracy to a despotic Middle Eastern nation is in fact highly compelling.
The trick has been in the telling. Raymer, impossibly blue of eye and clear of conscience, hasn't consistently sold his character: He seems far too smooth and unruffled, a Walter White wannabe who never underwent the requisite rite of passage from good to evil. By contrast, Barhom's Jamal Al-Fayeed is the more interesting of the two -- the thick-skulled man-child who doesn't have a clue whom to trust and ends up placing that in his would-be executioner, his own brother.
On some level "Tyrant" also wants to understand why the current history of the Middle East is so desperately fraught. It deserves credit for that ambition, too, but still doesn't have a handle on the answer. The show often feels hermetically sealed -- filmed in Turkey but remote from the throng and surge of street life, and humanity. "Tyrant" needs to remedy that shortcoming as well.
Will it? I hope so. "Tyrant," which overcame a shaky start, proved that initial impressions can sometimes be -- if not wrong -- premature.
BOTTOM LINE Yup, a second season has been earned.