Culture & Criticism Since 2003
Bassam (Barry!) Al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner) is a Pasadena pediatrician who lives a nice Pasadena pediatrician-type life with his American wife (Jennifer Finnigan) and teenage children (Anne Winters and Noah Silver). He has a dark past, however, as the self-estranged second son of a brutal mid-Eastern dictator, Khaled Al-Fayeed (played by Nasser Faris).
Shot mostly in Morocco, the fictional emirate of Abbudin at one point features the unmistakable cityscape of Dubai, with its Khalifa Tower. Al-Fayeed oppresses, along with his almost cartoonishly brutal younger son Jamal (played with leering menace by Ashraf Barhom, who cheerfully rapes virgins on their wedding day, shoots dissidents, drives a Lambo that plays Aerosmith loudly enough to be heard in Israel). Jamal, unsurprisingly, is head of paw’s secret police.
The pilot does a good job of showing the conflicted nature of Barry, who returns with his family after a absence of twenty years for a niece’s wedding. It’s not fully explained why this was enough to get him to return. He has apparently said nothing to his wife and kids of the extraordinary opulence and power his family enjoys. They are, not surprisingly, overwhelmed.
The Emirate palace is a vast set constructed in Israel, and explains the stratospheric cost of the production (amortized to $3 million per episode). It is satisfyingly eye-popping. Ironically, the characters complain about the cost of the fireworks display for the Royal wedding, which presumably also inflated the show’s production costs.
FX has a solid track record with dramas, the most recent being the magnificent “Fargo,” and the Network has billed this show “The Godfather in the Middle East.” But there are some warning signs requiring a longer look: Ang Lee was supposed to direct at least the pilot, but left the show without explanation. He was replaced by Howard Gordon, whose previous efforts include Homeland and 24. Gordon’s approach to matters Islamic tends to straddle the hard-line American point-of-view, and there’s strong elements of that in the pilot. Moreover, the show has already generated its share of complaints for its sometimes ugly stereotyping of the Abbudin people.
Still, Tyrant has its moments, and the story leaves off as a point where I am compelled to watch next week’s episode to see what happens. If Gordon can better balance the scripts and refrain from distasteful cultural stereotyping, Tyrant has the potential to a memorable ride.
Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.