July 7, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Tyrant”


TYRANT:  Wednesday 10PM on FX

FX’s TYRANT has never been as incisive or daring as it could have been, given its incendiary setting in a fictional Middle Eastern nation on the brink of revolution, but it’s a survivor, back on the air for its third season.  After an unengaging initial run, the series remade itself with fair success in Season 2 as a quasi-action story, with former Pasadena pediatrician Bassam Al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner), idealistic brother of Abuddin’s authoritarian leader Jamal (Ashraf Barhom) as a secret rebel leader, who ended up working with his brother against the even more evil forces of the fundamentalist Caliphate that sought to take over the country.

Season 2 ended with Jamal’s daughter-in-law Nusrat (Sibylla Deen), a victim of Jamal’s sexual assault, attempting his assassination, and Barry taking the throne.  The Season 3 premiere, written by Executive Producer Christopher Keyser and directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton, picked up from there.  It was mostly a stage-setting episode–the biggest marquee addition of the off-season, new regular Chris Noth in the role of an American general, was on screen for about 30 seconds of the 75 minutes–but the show’s return to a palace setting wasn’t terribly promising.

As has been the case since Tyrant began, its central weakness is its protagonist.  Barry is a bland character, both as written and as played by Rayner, and the decision to make him a singularly selfless Abuddin leader, seemingly immune to the allure of power, didn’t help any.  Barry’s major action once in office was to establish a Truth & Dignity commission, modeled after post-apartheid South Africa, in which former torturers and their victims will testify as to their experiences and thereby heal, and his self-sacrifice extended to appointing Daliyah (Melia Kreiling), the Bedouin woman he loves but cannot have, as the commission head.  On top of that, he not only announced free elections to take place several months in the future, but also that he himself would not run for office, but would instead fade back into private life once the new government was in place.  Leave aside the fact that if the show lasts that long, plot contrivances will no doubt keep Barry in the forefront of Abuddin politics–the fact that all he really wants to do is retire simply doesn’t make him very interesting.

There are enough vipers around to keep things moving.  Jamal was just coming out of his coma as the episode ended, and his dragon lady wife Leila (Moran Atias) is the new foreign minister, already scheming a presidential run of her own, much to the disgust of her and Jamal’s son Ahmed (Cameron Gharaee).  Another of Barry’s diplomatic moves ended disastrously, with the head of the Caliphate Army, sent to Syria instead of being executed, almost immediately freed to resume the war.  Noth’s arrival certainly means complications will be arising between Abuddin and the US.

Season 3, though, is lining up as a return to some of the least thrilling aspects of Season 1, very much including Barry’s American wife Molly (Jennifer Finnigan) and his bland children.  Tyrant shows no sign of being any more committed to meaningfully engaging with the real issues of the Middle East than it has in the past, and now it’s not even clear whether it will be as enjoyable a piece of storytelling as last season sometimes managed to be.

Tyrant hasn’t been top-tier TV drama, but it’s well-produced and has a setting with tons of potential.  It’s managed to take itself apart and put itself back together before, and might do so again.  FX is clearly willing to give it every chance to succeed, despite lackluster ratings and little critical buzz.  Perhaps this is the year a revolution we can all support will finally reach Abuddin.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."