Cast: Adam Rayner (Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed), Jennifer Finnigan (Molly Al-Fayeed), Ashraf Barhom (Jamal Al-Fayeed), Moran Atias (Leila Al-Fayeed), Sammy (Noah Silver) and Anne Winters (Emma)
Air-date, time: The pilot episode aired at 9 p.m. Tuesday on FX
The premise: “Tyrant” tells the story of an American family drawn into the political machinations of a fictional Middle Eastern nation. Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed (Rayner) is the youngest son of a war-torn country’s controversial dictator. He returns to his homeland after a self-imposed 20-year exile in America for his nephew’s wedding. When he returns, Barry is immediately thrown back into the national politics of his country, which is what caused him to leave in the first place. He struggles as he’s again confronted with the harsh rule of his father and older brother Jamal (Barhom), who strongly believe in an unforgiving dictatorship.
The lead executive producer for “Tyrant” is Howard Gordon, the Emmy and Golden Globe winning executive producer/showrunner of Fox’s “24” and Showtime’s “Homeland.”
Episode run down: In the first act of “Tyrant” we meet Barry, an unassuming pediatrician who lives with a beautiful blonde wife and two teenage kids in California. Barry is really named Bassam but that’s not what he goes by in America. He’s actually from a fictitious Middle Eastern country whose name was only said once and I never caught the name of it.
Through flashbacks we see what Barry’s life was like as a kid. His father, a dictator, is clearly grooming his eldest son, Jamal, to lead. We see a young Jamal, around 14 years old, dressed in a military uniform, told to wave to the “adoring” crowd and cutting the ribbon at the opening of a new bridge. But during the ceremony rebels drive a truck loaded with explosives across the bridge and blow it up in an attempt to kill Barry’s father. As the explosion goes off we see Barry’s dad dive to save Jamal while Barry, unprotected, gets blown off his feet in the aftershock. Father of the Year material the eldest Al-Fayeed is not.
Barry, though coaxed by his wife, is clearly leery of going back to his home country for his nephew’s wedding.
We first meet Jamal as he’s having coitus with another man’s wife… in her apartment… with her husband and children waiting outside, hearing the whole thing and standing next to Jamal’s bodyguards. Yep, Jamal is quite a guy. Unfortunately for Jamal, he’s interrupted by a phone call. His brother’s plane has landed. Running late Jamal jumps into the red Lamborghini waiting outside the rundown housing unit he was visiting, and he cranks up the rock and roll music and speeds to the airport with his guards following in black SUVs.
In act two we get a better look at Barry’s family and an old friend. Here’s Jamal at a bathhouse beating up an informant who knows about a plot to set a bomb off at his son’s wedding. As Jamal’s about to torture the man, Barry intervenes with a better strategy – invite the possible traitor to the wedding and have him bring enough family to spread around; this way an attack won’t happen. We start to see the yin/yang of the two brothers as violent Jamal can only be reasoned with by his more compassionate younger brother.
We’re also given a closer look at Sammy, Barry’s son. Sammy, a teenager, loves the sudden wealth and status he’s now given access to. He’s also gay, something many in this Muslim country would likely not accept, but there are certain hints he’s going to cause trouble by getting involved with one of the guards anyway. We also meet Barry’s childhood friend Fauzi at a mosque. Fauzi’s now a journalist and angry that the Al-Fayeed family has gone unchecked by its youngest son.
Finally it’s time for the wedding. It’s ornate and lavish with dancing, fireworks, fancy clothes and Jamal molesting his own son’s bride. Barry is starting to believe that his brother is insane and he didn’t see that last part. Despite his disdain for his brother Barry doesn’t blame Jamal for his actions, he blames their father. Barry’s tells this to his wife but she’s incredibly naïve and has NO IDEA what the heck his childhood was like.
In act three the Al-Fayeed family is summoned to the hospital after the wedding. The family patriarch has collapsed and is dying. Papa Al-Fayeed manages some last words with Barry and we’re again sent back in time to the bridge attack long ago. In the flashback we see a furious dictator Al-Fayeed gather men captured after the bomb blast and have them shot in the head. Still trying to groom Jamal, he gives him a gun and tells him to shoot a man on his knees pleading for his life. Young Jamal can’t do it; he literally pisses himself and runs away. While dictator Al-Fayeed is trying to coax Jamal out of a vehicle to finish the job, young Barry who looks to only be about 10 years old, picks up a gun and shoots the kneeling man dead.
Back in the present, Papa Al-Fayeed dies and Jamal doesn’t take it well. He jumps in his Lambo, picks up his married girlfriend and starts chugging whiskey while driving on a winding mountain pass. Sensing that it’s time to go, Barry immediately grabs his family and heads for the airport. His wife and his son are reluctant to leave, the son so much so that Barry has to slap him, twice.
Back in the Lambo we see Jamal forcing his hostage to service him while driving. Fed up with this treatment, the captive tries to stab Jamal with a syringe that appears to be filled with poison. This forces a struggle in the car, which we could see coming, and Jamal drives off the steep road and wrecks. He’s badly hurt, but still alive.
Meanwhile Barry’s escape plan has failed. Just as the plane was about to take off the engines turn off and the captain comes to Barry with a cell phone.
End of episode.
Final thoughts: Great start to what could potentially be a very fun new series. Jamal is a solid villain, full of self-importance and ego, but with no real leadership skills. He’s exactly what you think someone growing up in a world of unchecked power would be like as an adult. Barry is an intriguing character, quiet and reserved but with a past he just can’t escape. His family, in some ways, has no idea who he really is.
Some of the other characters I’m not quite sold on. Can you hate-watch two people in one show? Jamal is clearly the star but Sammy is a punk. The slap he was given near the end of the episode was gratifying but it’s hard to dislike two characters on the same show. How long can the wife be blind? If it continues she’ll get grating. And what about the daughter? She’s pretty uninteresting so far.
That said it’s still very early and I have a lot of hope for several characters we only saw snippets of. Jamal’s wife should play a bigger role going forward, as should the seemingly corrupt U.S. official John Tucker and his wife, played by Jordana Spiros (who I really liked in “My Boys”). For my fellow nerds, you might get a kick out of seeing the Borg Queen on this show. Alice Krige plays Jamal and Barry’s mother but we don’t see much of her in the pilot.
Final, final thoughts: This is my first Post Show Recap for Rob and I’ll be tinkering with the format. I’m used to writing previews or reviews, so summaries are a new thing for me. Please be patient as I find my Summarizing Sea Legs. If you’re familiar with my work on this site, you know I’ve previously covered “The Bachelor” so as soon as I get into a routine expect some humor to be tossed in with my Post Show Recaps.
I’d love to hear your feedback on this show. I think “Tyrant” can be a winner.
Terry Terrones is the media columnist for the daily newspaper in Colorado Springs, The Gazette. He’s also a member of the Television Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter @terryterrones.