Tuesday, August 26, 2014


The short answer is - maybe. POSSIBLE SPOILERS. Season 1 finale of FX'S original series Tyrant (2014-) culminated in a pleasantly surprising though still fairly underwhelming series of events earlier this evening. People moan about predictability of entertainment, but because the mediums are so established and their audiences so versed - it is hard to surprise anyone with anything anymore. While predictability is part of the game, it doesn't mean the content cannot be well done. Tyrant is well done in its production value and acting performances. It is the most expensive show of the summer (filmed in Morocco). The cast is, for the most part, great, with a few managing to steal the show every time. The writing, unfortunately, is not entirely on the level.

Tyrant comes in a time of continuing political hostilities between the Western world and the Middle East. Set in the fictional country of Abbudin, the show's "ripped from the headlines" approach  operates within a historical narrative similar to those of Iraq, Libya, and a dash of Syria.

Its premise follows a California family, helmed by Arab-American Bassam "Barry" Al- Fayeed, as they go back to his homeland for his nephew's wedding. Upon arrival, they are greeted with a welcome of sheer opulence and excess. Barry's father is the ruler of Abbudin and has been for decades. He is the original tyrant, a mix of Gaddafi and Hussein. When he passes suddenly, Barry's next-in-line brother Jamal, played to the nines by Ashran Barhom, takes over. More tyranny ensues, the people of Abbudin are fed up with the never-ending Al-Fayeed rule, and public disturbances arise. So does a political opposition party, which, in hindsight, is just another oppressive regime. 

Civil war seems inevitable, the only question is how low or high the casualties will be. This is where Barry decides to butt in and "fix" the country, calling for real elections that are backed by American presence in the region. With time, he plans an all out coup, but the Americans pull their support at the last minute, and he is left to continue the overthrow on his own. The American sub-plot is probably the most interesting, as it realistically reflects our foreign policy. As the US diplomats explain to Barry, the higher-ups don't want a barbaric dictator in place, they want a democratic dictator, but a dictator no less. The stance of America only interested in the guise of democracy in the Middle East becomes the highlight of the whole show.

The dislike for Tyrant, however, came in many forms, from its Israeli born writer/creator, to the largely Israeli cast playing Arab characters, to whitewashing the lead in Adam Rayner. We can't take two steps out the front door these days without someone being offended. Every show on TV is guilty of playing into one stereotype or another, so to be outraged and offended by all of it must be exhausting. Once again, I promote the availability of content. Offended parties need not watch, be they Muslims, Christians, Jews, Catholics, whites, blacks, or aliens from outer space. It'd be more sincere and beneficial for the Council on American-Islamic Relations to be outraged over the cancer that is ISIS, instead of moaning about Arab representations in Tyrant.

For me, the shortcomings of Tyrant are not about various representations or stereotypes, it is about the simple fact that this show is, well... boring. I don't often use that term as it tends to be somewhat juvenile in its meaning, but Tyrant does move rather slowly. Explosions or “action” wouldn’t spruce it up per se, but it does need to hurry along. Out of 10 episodes, only the first, the middle, and the finale are worth watching. They are all that is needed to comprehend the full scenario. In other words, it could have been presented as a 4-5 hour miniseries instead of a whole season that, if it doesn't get cancelled, will be followed by yet another equally tedious installment. 

With so many filler episodes and supporting characters who act incomprehensibly in time of crisis, I'm not sure I'm willing to tune in again to learn of Barry's fate. If he is the real tyrant, how will he get out of his current predicament? Is it worth your time to find out? Maybe. Maybe not.

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