Howard Gordon has had a busy year, depending on what he actually did as executive producer, one of the most meaningless titles in showbusiness. With 24: Live Another Day, Homeland season 4, 24: India and Legends with him holding the credit... and this, it's clear that the Emmy-winner is clearly setting out his stake in the espionage/intrigue world.
And this series, which aims to combine high politics ad family drama with a thought-provoking view on the whole Arab Spring thing.
(This review contains spoilers)
Pasadena-based paediatrician Barry al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner) is enjoying his life with his wife Molly and their two children when he is invited to visit the Middle Eastern republic of Abbudin for the wedding of his nephew. This is no ordinary nephew and Barry, or to use his full name, Bassam, is no ordinary guy. You see, he's the second son of the country's autocratic President, who has a penchant for dealing with rebels the violent way, including as we learn later, via poison gas attacks. Barry has been away for 20 years, while his older brother and heir apparent, Jamal, has been enjoying power and raping women just because he can.
The wedding of a nephew I'm calling "Arab Chumlee" goes off without a terrorist attack, but there is a bit of drunken firearms discharge... and it's clear that Arab Chumlee is turning out a bit like his dad. However, his father dies and Jamal becomes President, albeit after a car accident where one of his latest victims performs a groin attack.
Barry decides to stay and try to moderate Jamal's rule, a task made harder when a spot of self-immolation sets off an Arab Spring-style uprising. Then things get more complex...
This is an interesting story; while it's saying nothing that someone with a half-decent knowledge of Middle Eastern politics wouldn't really know already (the Americans prefer stability over democracy, the leaders are jerks and the alternative might be worse), we get a fairly gripping story with more than a few twists and turns along the way... and some US viewers probably need the education. One is reminded of Game of Thrones, in the "you win or you die" sense rather than the nudity everywhere sense (every episode aired on FX aired with a content warning for at least violence); characters do die frequently and no-one is probably safe, with the probable exception of the frankly dodgy US Ambassador. In addition, the title sequence is clear intended to invoke that show. It's a pity we don't get more detail on Abbudin; I have no idea of its size, overall history etc. At least we get an actual flag for it!
The key focus of my attention is Jamal (Ashraf Barhom); inspired by Uday Hussein, he combines a firm desire to stay in power with being completely sadistic and evil. At times, he practically sprays his lines and while I've not had nightmares about him, you can imagine he might cause a few.
Adam Rayner caught a considerable amount of flak for being, well, white - his character's arc is interesting and we can clearly see that he has a complex back story. However, he's not the best thing in this one by far - and if the cliffhanger goes the opposite way to what I'm thinking, the show might be better without him.
The kids are annoying and mercifully sidelined fairly quickly... Jennifer Finnigan's Molly really just exists to be the blonde woman in the low-cut dresses, while Molly's sister really needs a lesson in appropriate dressing while in the Middle East... this ain't a bare your midriff land at all!