Third-episode verdict: Tyrant (FX)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Tuesdays, 10pm, FX

Three episodes into FX’s Tyrant and things are marginally improving, while paradoxically staying much the same. Featuring a fictional Middle Eastern, yet seemingly English-speaking country that largely resembles Syria with just a hint of Saudi Arabia, it sees self-exiled Barry Al Fayeed (Adam Rayner) returning to the country of his birth, along with his family, for his nephew’s wedding. But when first his father, the president, dies and then his brother is involved in a car accident, Barry finds himself increasingly involved in the running of the country that he’d abandoned.

After a first couple of episodes that was very much the show finding its feet and voice, following the departure of creator Gideon Raff, episode three has given us a marginally more enjoyable programme with just a hint more optimism than before. Rayner appears to have woken up now and rather than the slow descent into evil initially projected from the first episode, with Rayner seduced into non-American, non-democratic ways by the appeal of absolute power, now he’s doing his best to clean up the country and bring it into the 21st century, step by step, as best he can, despite his brother being a psychotic, rapist, finger-amputating nutbag who’ll hang opposition leaders.

However, the change in producers has given the show and its characters a slight schizophrenia. It now no longer really knows what to do with either Rayner’s wife or his daughter. His wife in particular has now oscillated from being amazed in the first couple of episodes that Rayner would want to turn his back on the lavish lifestyle being the son of mass-murdering dictator affords and pleased that he’s staying to being amazed that he’s contemplating being in such a barbaric country. Rayner’s gay son has done a similar volte face, despite having found himself a boyfriend with whom he can discuss Skype. His daughter just seems unhappy no matter what.

The show’s sole interesting characteristic is its focus on the negotiations of power in a different style of rule. Whereas The West Wing gave us creative uses of the bartering and exchange of votes, the introduction of policies and so on, Tyrant gives us eternal dilemmas, such as which of the usual suspects to round-up and hang if you’re to seem strong yet not too oppressive, and how to convince a guilty man to recant his bribed confession to prevent civil war, even if it means he’s off to the gallows, too.

Although most of my criticisms from the first two episodes still hold true, the show is well made and is now decently acted. If it can maintain its course change, focus on the politics and give us an optimistic future, rather than simply paint a bleak picture of the Middle East and how absolute power corrupts absolutely, it’ll be worth watching. However, given the show’s title and the fact it’s on dark and broody FX, I’m not convinced it will. I’ll let you know how it goes, though.

Barrometer rating: 2
Rob’s prediction: Unlikely to last more than a season.


  • 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.

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