Third-episode verdict: The Philanthropist

The CarusometerA Carusometer rating of 3

The Philanthropist is one of those ideas which seems good in someone’s head, quickly becomes appalling once it’s been stuck down on paper and then can either get better or get worse once it’s on television. It will never, ever be great, however.

While you have to give the show brownie points for dealing with socially worthy issues in primetime drama, you can’t have a show about a rich white guy travelling the world, sorting out other countries’ problems in under an hour and for it not to be offensive in some way.

The first episode at least went to scrupulous pains to point that out, almost to the extent of sacrificing all drama and characterisation from the piece. Episode two tried its hardest to deal with Burma/Myanmar and to introduce the characterisation the first episode so desperately needed. In doing so, it became more than a touch offensive, with white billionaire managing to sneak passed the Burmese army to interview imprisoned former leaders. As you do.

It wasn’t helped by the new title sequence, with James Purefoy jetting around the world to generously pet small African boys on the head.

Episode three, while not appalling, was pretty close, dealing as it did with the import of Eastern European women to Paris to act as prostitutes. Yes, someone’s been watching Taken, but decided to remove any hints at the drug trade, because then we might have a complicated story to deal with. It was all very crassly handled, and once more, the best you can say for it is that its heart was in the right place.

Despite all this philanthropy, it’s very hard not to hate all the characters. James Purefoy’s character may be on a mission to heal himself, but at the moment, he’s a drunk, self-centred, emotional wreck who womanises semi-vulnerable attractive women as part of a self-confessed addiction; his co-CEO is little more than a cipher and Neve Campbell’s character barely even warrants that, despite attempts to broaden her in the third episode. Shockingly, Michael Kenneth Williams has had even less to do, and most of that has been getting his head kicked in and standing around helplessly.

The whole thing could still have been handled better if it wasn’t told in flashback. Each week, it’s a different story, being recounted by a different lead to a different supporting character. It’s clumsy, takes up too much, and takes you out of the action altogether.

The result, unfortunately, is that while the show tries hard to be intelligent, it’s just glib, moderately offensive and not very involving. And I’m not sure, no matter how hard the producers and production crew worked, that it could ever have been anything more.

Carusometer rating: 3
Rob’s predication: Will not be renewed for another season, and might not make it to the end of this one


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.