Not as hard to get through as the Greek version.
I don’t know if it’s nostalgia for The West Wing or what, but NBC loves itself some politico-military-conspiracy drama as of late. State of Affairs, Allegiance, sort of The Blacklist, 2012’s Last Resort, probably several other things I’m forgetting at the moment1 – between the settings, the color saturation, and the self-serious pacing sans-Jack Bauer shouting you can spot an NBC joint by the pitch or the look of the first episode.
This isn’t a bad thing. Not only do I personally enjoy this sort of show and these sorts of stories, but the resulting brand is a better, fresher2 play than stacks of procedurals (CBS), flashy rich-people stuff (ABC), and whatever the hell Fox thinks ‘programming’ means. Not everything is a home run, but at least the game they’re playing doesn’t drag.
The concern over getting into a show like American Odyssey – the sort of show where our distrust of parts of our nation’s authority structure intermingles with shadowy, powerful corporate greed both at home and in a country with a significant Muslim population – is NBC’s recent history with such plots looks great, moves quickly, and doesn’t gel.3 Recognizable pieces are laid out and its assumed the audience will respond to the sum of these parts, even if no math is ever done by the production team.
The cleanest – and most disconcerting – parallel for American Odyssey (Sundays at 10/9c) is the Andre Braugher-anchored disappointment that was Last Resort. A beautiful pitch/premise about government conspiracies and military cover-ups placed some excellent actors into a pretty set of settings and ultimately stood around waiting to see if anyone had any ideas of how to move them forward.4 Despite some promising differences, I fear a similar fate for American Odyssey.
Here the parts are more recognizable, which is good. Conspiracies are by their nature complicated things so it’s best to keep the parts simple and only their interactions complex.5 Here, also, key villains are revealed in the first episode, saving us all from the pointless ‘Big reveal coming up in episode three! Just sit tight through two episodes of treading water!’ phenomenon. They can add more villains and twists later on, but keeping half your structure literally in the shadows for several weeks is just dumb. And the first episode felt much more complete – fuller is a better term – than any of the shows I listed above.
The problems are even more apparent, though. American Odyssey treads some seriously hackneyed territory in one of its three protagonist groups – the dialogue some of these actors are forced to utter is hilariously bad, name checking Occupy just feels like a Law and Order episode at this point, and the naiveté shown by one of the leaders is so off the charts I can only pray that there’s a hackneyed reveal of Something Else Going On in the future. Meanwhile Anna Friel and Peter Facinelli – as the only or main members of the two other protagonist sets – are starting from a position of middling strength. Growth and change are good things in a TV drama, but Facinelli fades to flatness too often, and… Friel isn’t yet believable as a special forces soldier.6
I would say more but I don’t want to pound on what could be a perfectly good pulp conspiracy series. I’ll keep watching American Odyssey, but with one eye on the clock. It currently looks more a house of cards than an elegant playset, and I’m tired of sticking around while promising premises fall apart.
- Sorta Alcatraz, but not really… ↵
- -er. Not always fresh. ↵
- Allegiance has real problems beyond the accusation of being a pale imitation of The Americans; The Blacklist may have a sense of how its universe fits together, but it’s clearly being dragged out to maximize le moolah; State of Affairs was too often the wrong sort of bananas. ↵
- Spoiler: Yes, but it involved Russian commandos and, eventually, giving up and literally blowing the show’s premise to smithereens. ↵
- Looking at you The Blacklist. ↵
- Please tell me Sarah Jones at least read for the role. ↵