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'Rubicon' is no 'Mad Men'

Kale Ingram (Arliss Howard) and Will Travers (James

Kale Ingram (Arliss Howard) and Will Travers (James Badge Dale) star in "Rubicon on AMC. Credit: AMC

THE SHOW "Rubicon"

WHAT IT'S ABOUT "What do lucky lepidoptera eat?" is a clue in a newspaper crossword that anyone versed in the ways of butterflies or moths, lucky or otherwise, should get instantly - four-leaf clovers. In fact, tycoon Tom Rhumor (Harris Yullin) discovers just such a clover in the pages of his newspaper moments before he kills himself.

Meanwhile, brilliant spy agency analyst Will Travers (James Badge Dale) simultaneously learns this crossword clue is somehow linked to other clues in other papers. Why did Rhumor kill himself? Why did someone plant these clues? And while we're on the subject of "whys," why is Will's immediate boss, David Hadas (Peter Gerety), so incredibly superstitious, and why is David's boss, Kale Ingram (Arliss Howard), so incredibly mysterious? (As Will grumbles at one point, "There's always a why.")

MY SAY Launched on in June, "Rubicon" arrives Sunday in the enviable position of being a known commodity - or at least known to the core audience AMC wants to attract. That would be book- and tech-savvy brainiacs who know George Smiley or at the very least know that "Rubicon's" premise is similar to 1975's "Three Days of the Condor."

That's presuming a lot for the average TV viewer - which I avowedly am - although "Rubicon" is nothing if not presumptuous. It also presumes we should instantly care about moody, smoldering Travers, the conspiracy he's up against or the malign forces arrayed against him. Mostly it presumes we have all the time in the world to do this caring.

"Rubicon" unfolds at a languid pace, dispensing information at the rate a not-quite-broken kitchen faucet dispenses drops. You want it to speed up. You want some urgency. You want a few more thrills in this thriller. At least this average TV viewer does.

BOTTOM LINE Why, why, why? (There's always a why.) All this talent, good writing, solid acting and great location shoots - in New York City, and even Upper Brookville - and yet the first two hours of "Rubicon" sometimes feel more like a wet blanket than the mind-bending conspiracy thriller it wants and deserves to be.


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