Cast: Adam Rayner (Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed), Jennifer Finnigan (Molly Al-Fayeed), Ashraf Barhom (Jamal Al-Fayeed), Moran Atias (Leila Al-Fayeed), Sammy (Noah Silver) and Anne Winters (Emma)
Air-date, time: The pilot episode airs at 8 p.m. Tuesday on FX
The premise: “Tyrant” tells the story of an American family drawn into the political machinations of a fictional Middle Eastern nation. Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed (Rayner) is the youngest son of a country’s controversial dictator. He returns to his homeland after a self-imposed 20-year exile in America for his nephew’s wedding. When he returns, Barry is immediately thrown back into the national politics of his country, which is what caused him to leave in the first place. He struggles as he’s again confronted with the harsh rule of his father and older brother Jamal (Barhom), who strongly believe in an unforgiving dictatorship.
The lead executive producer for “Tyrant” is Howard Gordon, the Emmy and Golden Globe winning executive producer/showrunner of Fox’s “24” and Showtime’s “Homeland.”
Highs: The cast is loaded with fascinating characters. There’s Molly (Finnigan), Barry’s wife, who has no clue what kind of environment her husband was raised in and just wants him to get closure with his family. Molly is naïve almost to the point of being annoying but she’s what grounds Barry and reminds him of what an insane upbringing he had and why he left. There’s teenage son Sammy (Silver) who immediately embraces the lavish lifestyle his dad’s family enjoys. He suddenly has anything he could want at his fingertips and clashes with his dad as he turns into a spoiled brat.
Most compelling are Barry and Jamal. The two brothers, on the surface, are at opposite ends of the spectrum – Barry is quiet and uses reason while Jamal drives around in a Lamborghini cranking loud rock and roll music in front of the poor people of his country. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg with these two. Each brother has glaring flaws and isn’t exactly what they seem – both are angry (for different reasons), looking for their father’s approval and share a capacity for cruelty. Barry and Jamal are multi-dimensional characters with real depth.
The world of “Tyrant” is immersive. Howard Gordon has taken the fictitious Middle Eastern country created by writer Gideon Raff (“Homeland,” “Prisoners of War”) and made it into a living, breathing place. The presidential palace is large and visually stunning, the poorer parts of town look worn down and destitute but there’s also large skyscrapers and beautiful mosques. The fabricated country of Abbudin is a mix of things we’re familiar with – the tall buildings of Dubai, the decadence of a Saddam Hussein palace, the endless sand dunes of Abu Dhabi – but unique. The attention to detail to make the world in “Tryant” an actual place is impressive.
Lows: Kids are hard to write for in a dramatic series and it’s no different in “Tyrant.” While Sammy is a fun character to hate-watch, the role of the rebellious teen can get grating (see “Homeland” and “The Americans”). Sammy’s sister Emma (Winters) is aloof and disinterested in her newfound family. I’m not sure where her character is going.
Grade: (A): I only had one episode of “Tyrant” to watch but what a great episode it was. With great production value, abundant familial conflict and engrossing characters, “Tyrant” is a show that deserves your attention.