Is it possible to go home again after leaving under such traumatic circumstances? What happens when the past and the present start to collide? Can you escape once again or will you have to confront it? That’s part of the premise behind FX’s new show “Tyrant,” which had one man attempting to let past remain there until a major tragedy prevents him from doing so. The results may be familiar to some extent, but some of the cast members proved to be willing enough to go beyond some of storytelling clichés.
“Tyrant” followed Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner) who fled a war torn Middle Eastern country that was run by a controversial dictator that also happened to be his estranged father. He was forced to return 20 years later for a family wedding, which also forced the issue of putting his own family into the middle of a world that they were in no way prepared for. Barry’s devoted wife Molly (Jennifer Finnigan) was having a hard time understanding why her husband shunned his father for so long, while their two children had very different views towards Barry’s wealthy background from a powerful royal family. Barry’s daughter Emma (Anne Winters) shared her father’s disgust with the world that he left behind and would rather stay home than go to the wedding. Her brother Sammy (Noah Silver), on the other hand, loved the fact that his father came from a wealthy and powerful background. The only problem was that he could potentially get into a lot of trouble based on his questionable interest in family bodyguard Abdul (Mehdi Dehbi), which he made no effort of hiding at the wedding reception. While Barry was able to flee, his older brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom) grew corrupted under the power and responsibility that his father gave him over the years. He enjoyed the excess, abused people for spite and feared the responsibility. Jamal’s wife Leila (Moran Atias) wanted her husband to display his ruthlessness for when it came time for him to take over for his father. Once Barry’s father died, he was eager to return home to the United States because he was terrified of getting pulled into his family’s complicated political world for fear that it would compromise his ideals. Unfortunately, he didn’t get very far after his brother became injured in a major car accident. Will Barry have to take on a role that he’s unwilling of going near or will he embrace his dark side a little too much?
In terms of questions, the show posed quite a few big ones, but the biggest one involved whether it could have the staying power and last longer than one season. Since there has only been one episode, it’s hard to say what the future holds for the series. Some shows tend to start off strong and then fall apart soon after the series premiere, while others tend to have a slow start that takes multiple episodes for viewers to get a feel for it. It appears that “Tyrant” falls into the latter category, because the premiere bounced back and forth between family drama and political thriller in the making. It was that uncertainty in the show’s tone that made it hard to enjoy certain elements of the premiere. It also didn’t help that the show was almost a little too willing to embrace certain plot stereotypes that have been done before about the Middle East. Sure, the country depicted on the show is completely made up, but the characters feel a little too familiar. Winter and Silver had some strong moments in the premiere, but their characters were generally the most unsympathetic teenagers on television who focused on their own needs rather than reality. Let’s hope that future episodes will give their characters a necessary wake-up call. The premiere’s biggest casualty was Barhom’s Jamal because his character enjoyed the excess of his world without looking at the consequences. Barhom’s Jamal was portrayed for most of the episode as a brutal man on the brink of losing his sanity. He was ruthless as he beat a man rather than get the truth out of him the easy way, but Barhom also made Jamal somewhat sympathetic by allowing viewers to see what his demons were. When the character’s father died, Barhom expressed his sadness and the horror that he was going to be ruling the country now. He also had a dark and twisted chemistry with on-screen wife Atias that was mixed with enough hate and passion to get viewers guessing what would happen next. Let’s hope that it will be unexpected. Only time will tell if that’s the case.
As for breakout performances, Rayner and Atias led the pack because their characters viewed their surroundings very differently. Rayner embodied Barry with the right balance of vulnerability and blunt anger when the character let his emotions get the best of him. In many ways, Rayner’s Barry was stuck in the pack. Sure, he remembered what it was like 20 years ago, but he often overlooked that everyone else moved on without him. One key scene had Barry visiting an old childhood friend who didn’t want to remember the good times rather than overlook the harsh reality of Barry’s family and their political regime that needed to end. Rayner expressed Barry’s sadness that his friend rejected him, but he seemed to ignore that it was the character’s indecision that sealed the deal. It was also a nice to change of pace to see Barry’s dark side after seeing him kill a man when he was a boy and then slapping his son in a moment of heated rage. Rayner demonstrated that Barry wasn’t shocked by the actions themselves, but the fact that he was more like his father than he cared to admit. He also had a comfortable rapport with Finnigan, but he had the potential to have a stronger dynamic with Atias as they start to clash over what Jamal’s reign could mean for the country. Atias had the challenging task of portraying a potential villainess with enough depth and gusto to keep viewers interested. She had played that type of role before, but she still managed to excel at playing the part perfectly. Atias’ Leila had the potential to drive many of the show’s stories and cause enough tension to keep the family drama flowing for a long time. She also had a strong dynamic with Barhom’s Jamal that could prove complicated if her actions were ever exposed to his family. Fingers crossed that Atias will be on the show for a while before that happens.
“Tyrant” premiered on June 24th and airs Tuesdays at 10:00 PM on FX.
Verdict: The show has a promising premise and a potential breakout star in Rayner, but future episodes need to break away from a few storytelling stereotypes to keep viewer interest going for the rest of the season.
TV Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)