TYRANT Series Premiere Recap: “Pilot”

     June 24, 2014


From the snow of Fargo, we now move to the sands of the fictional Middle Eastern nation of Abuddin, where FX’s newest drama series Tyrant is set up to be part Homeland, part Dynasty.  In a strong (but still somewhat boilerplate) pilot, Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner), the young son of the nation’s dictator, returns to Abuddin for his nephew’s wedding, bringing his American family with him after 20 years of self-imposed exile. “Promise me we’ll come back?” he says to his wife, Molly (Jennifer Finnigan) as the family prepares to leave. The fateful words have thus been spoken: ain’t nobody getting out of this.  Hit the jump for why “if you’re going to be unbearable, at least be accurate.”

tyrant-adam-raynerTyrant made its story clear and its characters broad, but its tone remains in question. For now, amid a background of gorgeous wardrobing and sets, what is known is that “Barry” is about to be forced to revert back to being Bassam after the death of his father, which puts his over-the-top evil brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom) in power.  Jamal is hot-headed and over-written in the premiere, and obviously set up as a foil for Bassam’s cool-headed nature.  And on this deathbed, their father tells Bassam that he should have trained him up to be the leader.  In a powerful flashback scene built throughout the episode, we see why.  Bassam’s coolness was once ice-cold, as he killed a man as a child in order to get his father’s attention and respect.  And it worked, to a degree, but birth order is an important thing in dynasties.

Bassam’s return to Abuddin is fraught with conflict, from trying to quell Jamal’s passions, to wrestling with his own conflicted feelings that are alienating his wife, and causing him to lash out at his children.  As Bassam, Rayner is placid and a little too blank, but it also could just be that he is getting his bearings.  Soon, he’s going to have to step up, whether he wants to or not.  Say goodbye to your pediatrics practice back in Pasadena: a war-torn nation needs your leadership.

Tyrant, whose executive producers include Homeland‘s Howard Gordon (the pilot was directed by David Yates – the show also has pedigree), makes some definite choices about how it might handle this political subplot (or is it the main plot?).  There has been some criticism about the show not allowing the characters to speak in a native language when the Americans aren’t around, just like what happens on FX’s other series The Bridge (Spanish) and The Americans (Russian).  But for Tyrant, that would leave almost the entire show subtitled.  On the other hand, it creates a realism boundary when characters just speak in heavily-accented English to crowds and to each other, instead of in the language that Abuddinians would naturally speak (Abuddin seems based heavily on Syria, not only in relation to ruling families, but even in their choice of flag).

tyrant-recapIt remains to be seen, then, how Tyrant moves forward with what are currently, very broad characters: Bassam naturally has a revolutionary journalist friend, his children are divided on whether to be impressed or horrified by the luxury they are afforded in Abuddin at the expense of the populace, there are noble freedom fighters and then evil people connected to the dictatorship (mostly in the form of Jamal), but the message here is still jumbled.  Will politics become a driving force, or just a current running underneath the family drama?

Tyrant has at least proved in its pilot that it’s well worth finding out.  It’s a show that could start an important dialogue, or it could just be a glossy and opulent family drama.  Either way, like Bassam, I feel compelled to stay.

Episode Rating: B+

Musings and Miscellanea:

– “If you’re going to be unbearable at least be accurate” – Molly, in a line I am definitely going to be repeating in my own life.

– Not much was set up for daughter Emma (Anne Winters), but as long as she doesn’t become Dana Brody, everything should be fine (just like Molly just needs to just not be Skyler White).  Brother Sammy (Noah Silver) is in for a tough time being gay in an extremely homophobic region of the world, so that will be interesting to watch unfold.

– Justin Kirk was a surprising addition to the pilot, but a welcomed one as an American jerk named John Tucker, the U.S. diplomat to Abbudin.

– “Talk to him?  Like Oprah?  You had a bad childhood, let’s hug it out.” – Jamal, played well by Barhom, but who deserves better material.  Two rapes in one episode is a lot to handle …

– Bassam was pretty much a wet blanket on the proceedings, but he has daddy issues, ok?

– Bassam: “I’m a pediatrician.” Fauzi Nadal (Fares Fares): “You’re an Al-Fayeed.” (Which somehow went unnoticed in the States).

– I want to continuing watching and liking this show, so please be good, Tyrant.



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  • Redemption

    There’s so much potential with this show and I’ve been looking forward to it for awhile, but the premiere didn’t blow me away. The son and mother are already being poorly developed and completely oblivious to the situation at hand (Breaking Bad?). Historically, most great shows have great opening episodes, and that wasn’t the case here. But it’s definitely good enough to stick around and give it time.

  • Daniel O’Reilly

    Disappointing. The flashbacks were great. The problem is everything else. Barry/Bassam is sort of interesting, having lived for years repressing his true nature. But he’s given such weak dialogue and makes so many lame excuses, it’s hard to believe he’s been so successful at avoiding himself for so long. In essence, however rich the character may be, he’s still on track to be a poor man’s Michael Corleone.

    The rest of his family are pretty much all one dimensional so far. The wife is merely nagging, the kids stereo-typically stubborn and whiny teenagers without personalities, the brother so over the top he could be a Bond villain (the moment he opens his eyes after the wreck is treated, bizarrely, like the killer waking up in a horror film).

    Technically, it’s three rapes if you count just before the wreck.

    Out of curiosity, why does this series get a recap and not other shows, like Halt and Catch Fire or Longmire, which are actually good and could use the extra exposure?

  • Walt

    This is how I see the series playing out, Bassam/Barry is given the power his father had. It then leads to him having to make decisions that tear him apart along with his family. His brother all the while becomes jealous. But in the end Bassam gives into the power and becomes the Walter White/Heisenberg of the show. Therefore, TYRANT!

  • Bhammer100

    Wasn’t the best pilot I’ve seen from FX (Justified and The Shield both had great pilots) but it interested me enough to keep watching for a few episodes.

    • LEM

      Justified has one of the best opening of any series.

  • technoreaper

    Show is just dumb in so many ways.