June 17, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Tyrant”


TYRANT:  Tuesday 10PM on FX

Season 1 of TYRANT was a mess.  It was rebooted and somewhat restaffed after the pilot was shot, and then continued to be changed on the fly, making for a series that seemed to shift tone and direction every few episodes.  The ratings weren’t much above terrible (although they were relatively steady) and the reviews were no better, but FX decided to stick with the series, probably because the idea of a political thriller set amidst Middle East turmoil, from a co-creator of Homeland no less, has so much potential.  (And the fact that FX already knew it had to replace Justified, Sons of Anarchy and The Bridge this season may have contributed as well.)

The Season 2 premiere, written by series co-creator Howard Gordon and fellow Executive Producer Chris Keyser, and directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton, was promising in the sense, at least, that it was consistent and straightforward.  Rather than a sprawling collection of mini-plots, it basically told one story that for the most part made sense.  Season 1 had ended with the show’s protagonist, Americanized Abbudin royal family member Bassam Al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner), being arrested after he led an unsuccessful coup against the repressive government led by his brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom).  The Season 2 premiere picked up 4 months later, with Bassam sentenced to death for treason, but Jamal causing tension throughout the country by not carrying out the sentence.  Local rebels made Bassam into the emblem of their cause, while Jamal’s wife Leila (Moran Atias) and his head of security and uncle Tariq (Raad Rawi), urged him to swiftly rid himself of Bassam permanently.  (A more sophisticated take on the issue would have pondered whether Bassam would be more dangerous to Jamal as a martyr than a prisoner, but never mind.)  While we spent a bit of time with Jamal’s son Ahmed (Cameron Gharaee) and Ahmed’s wife Nusrat (Sibylla Deen), who was impregnated by Jamal when he raped her on her wedding night, mostly the hour concentrated on Bassam’s plight and its rippling effects.

It may have helped that Bassam himself, being locked away in a cell for much of the episode, was largely in the background.  He’s been the show’s most problematic figure, and if the episode was meant to start re-establishing him as a clear revolutionary hero, that would at least make him comprehensible.  The episode, however streamlined, still had its problems.  It tried to play a long con, with Jamal pretending to have Bassam hung but actually substituting another hooded prisoner for the execution, but Tyrant isn’t Game of Thrones, and although the sequence was played out well enough, there was never any serious sense that the series would kill off its main character.  Jamal’s decision to essentially turn his brother into Moses at the end of the episode, setting him loose in the desert to perish or survive as the fates determined, was a worrisome return to silliness, and the next episodes hopefully won’t push the Biblical parallels too hard.

Even if Tyrant can solve some of its storytelling problems, it still faces plenty of challenges.  Aside from Jamal, there is a shortage of interesting characters on hand, and the topical setting requires some degree of narrative intelligence that the show has so far lacked.  Rayner has also been underwhelming in the lead role, although perhaps he’ll fare better with a simpler take on Bassam.  Tyrant does have one of the more original premises on TV, and if the show can pull itself together, it has the potential to be a notable drama.  Its own journey through the desert, though, is just beginning.

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."