Tyrant, FX’s latest foray into unpleasant family drama (Hello, Rescue Me. How are you, Sons of Anarchy?), ventures into the heart of the Middle East. Decadent weddings, lavish palaces and Lamborghinis, the Al Fayeed family has it all in Abuddin, a fictitious nation that boils an entire region’s blemishes down to one country. Bassam, the family’s prodigal son who has lived in the United States for two decades answering to “Barry,” makes the voyage back home for his nephew’s wedding and is confronted by his past, present and future.
Barry brings his extremely white wife and two whiny teenaged children to Abuddin where they are captivated by the spoils of dictatorship, wondering why dear old dad can’t look past an encyclopedia of human rights violations and just enjoy the fruits of his family’s brutally despotic heritage. Nightmares of the family’s slaughtering habits should easily subside when presented with a pretty palace to call home. Don’t be such a drama queen, Barry. Let disturbing bygones be bygones, Barry!
The focal point of the pilot revolves around Barry returning to his homeland where his father, Khaled, still rules with an iron fist. Civil rights are a myth. Terrorism is status quo. Justice equates to one government official deeming someone guilty of something and off to the gallows. Or shot in the head. Whatever option is most pragmatic, really.
Lured back into the family business by a series of unfortunate events, Barry routinely clashes with his older brother Jamal. Charitable men and women would describe Jamal as a sadistic, bloodthirsty menace. Raping and pillaging are on Tuesday’s to do list before a little ethnic cleansing in the afternoon. Fifteen minutes into the pilot and good ol’ Jamal broke every one of the seven deadly sins. If you can get past how detestable that makes someone, it’s awfully good hustle.
However, the two make nice after Jamal delivers a rousing eulogy at a funeral. They fight after a group of terrorists are wrongfully imprisoned for an attempt on Jamal’s life. Barry makes a big fuss about how incarcerating the innocent (for this crime) is wrong and Jamal needs to adapt. Jamal doesn’t understand why he can’t do some killing. Only one person ends up hanged, which is a good compromise.
Flimsy logic is the show’s backbone, a domino effect of head-scratching decisions had led Barry back to his homeland. Molly, Barry’s blonde wife, urges him to make peace with his past and express his feelings to his father. His kids, Sammy and Emma, grate on Barry’s inability to appreciate the crowned warlord who fathered him. Barry changes his mind at the drop of a dime. Everything is convoluted.
Criticizing art is an entirely subjective process, but when a show suffocates itself in seriousness, profound oversights in common sense are exacerbated. Why would anyone return to a land abandoned long ago to bury the hatchet with someone who takes pride in outlasting Omar Gaddafi? How does Barry the Californian pediatrician flip into expert hostage negotiator and master interrogator after, like, a week? Do American diplomats really do nothing but glad-hand with tyrants?
The only motive for Jamal is an insatiable lust for absolute authority. Flex your clout only because you can and that’s that. The family so eager to ensconce itself in luxurious built by bloodshed wants to flee because, y’know, they’re bored. Barry’s conflicted between disowning a savage authoritarian and embracing his brother, but Adam Rayner simply does not have the acting chops to convince an audience to care.
Ultimately, Tyrant is a confused mess that can’t figure out what it wants to do. It fluctuates between family drama and political thriller, never achieving success on either front. There’s a solid premise lost somewhere in the parade of illogical decision-making and aching melodrama, but the combination of aimless storytelling and less-than-stellar acting radically decreases its potential.