The creators of 24 and Homeland deliver a ropy script and even ropier cast choices in new series
Anyone expecting subtlety from a show created by various folk who were involved in 24 and Homeland is the kind of person who thinks that peace in the Middle East will be announced tomorrow. Tyrant has been dubbed in some quarters as a Dallas for the Middle East, but given the cultural make-up of this production, that would only make sense if Bobby Ewing and the family he had married into were Saudis or Yemenis. It’s more akin to a contemporary Godfather with a reluctant son being dragged back into the life he fled and actually developing a taste for its nastier elements.
The creation of Tyrant has been ill-fated almost from day one with its location changing from Morocco to Israel before finally alighting on Turkey when fighting in Gaza escalated. On the directorial side, Ang Lee appeared to be onboard the project before eventually opting out, though a perfectly able replacement has been found in David Yates whose biggest achievements to date are helming State of Play (the BBC series, not the movie) and those darkly demonic later Harry Potter movies.
But it’s the casting which has caused most head-shaking. Clearly there were no Middle Eastern actors talented enough to take on the central role of Bassam Al Fayeed who ships himself off to the US for a brand new life. Instead, they plumped for Adam Rayner, a white guy from Shrewsbury. When Bassam (who westernises his name to Barry) finally returns home 20 years later for a family wedding, he realises exactly why he escaped in the first place, sickened at being the offspring of a Syria-like nation’s bloodthirsty leader and the brother of an unhinged megalomaniac, Jamal. To show us just how nasty Jamal is, he assaults men and women with impunity and drives around in a red sports car blaring out Aerosmith tunes.
It’s difficult to know exactly which way this show will veer, but with a script that includes passages such as ‘childhood in America is a different thing from here. Terrorists start young: like gymnasts!’ perhaps an unintentional humour will drive it forward. And while it’s unlikely to attempt 24-style cliffhangers, a neat twist which largely explains both brothers’ later lives lifts the opening episode, but the viewer is ultimately left with more problems than solutions.
Tyrant starts on Fox, Fri 12 Sep, 9pm.