Amazon’s ‘Patriot’ Is Back, As Strange And Dark And Silly As Ever

Editor-at-Large
11.08.18 9 Comments

Amazon

Of all the shows I recommend to people, Patriot is the one that makes me the most nervous. It’s not that I like it less than any of the other shows I push on people. Quite the contrary, actually. I love Patriot. It’s on a short list of Amazon original shows I seek out, along with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Bosch, and now Homecoming. The first season even cracked my list of top shows of 2017. It’s so good. Season two comes out November 9 and I’m about to recommend that to you, too. I’m terrified. Allow me to explain.

Patriot goes something like this: John Tavner (Michael Dorman) is an intelligence officer. At the beginning of season one, he is given an assignment that will help prevent Iran from going nuclear. As part of the assignment, he takes a job at an industrial piping factory in Milwaukee, because this company does work overseas in the cities he’ll need to be in to do the Iran business. Before long, he is hopelessly over his head in both jobs, his real one (the spying does not go smoothly) and his cover one (there is so much talk about piping, oh my god), the latter being of great annoyance to his supervisor, a man named Leslie (Kurtwood Smith, in all his cranky Red Forman glory) who hates him very much and will tell anyone who will listen.

With me so far? Cool. Here’s where things get weird. Tavner’s operation is run by his father (Terry O’Quinn), who is up to some shady business. His brother, Edward, a congressman from Texas, gets involved, as does some doofus named Dennis. There’s a bag filled with money that falls into the possession of about four incorrect people on the way to its target. There’s a disbanded folk group that plays a big part in the action. An icy blond investigator is on Tavner’s trail — actually, on the trail of his cover identity, John Lakeman, who is suspected of a number of crimes across Europe — and closing fast. Oh, and did I mention that Tavner/Lakeman is depressed and bordering on catatonic, replying “pretty good” to every inquiry about his well-being, even when it is obviously and extremely untrue?

Still with me? Okay. Because here’s the other thing about Patriot: It is so strange. Not just the plot, which I’ve barely skimmed so far. The whole tone and style of it. It’s darker than a lot of bleak dramas but also funnier than a lot of goofball comedies. It moves painfully slow in places, on purpose, often for comedic effect, and then slams the gas and whips the action around at 120mph through hairpin turns and crowded intersections. Creator Steven Conrad has given the show a wholly original vibe. It’s dry and silly and exciting and sad all at once, kind of like Fargo crossed with Killing Eve but with way more talk about breakfast.

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Season two picks up where season one left off. Like, exactly where it left off, at a train station, with John watching the money escape yet again. The gang is all back. Doofus Dennis is still in custody after showing up completely naked at a police station to provide a distraction. John is still miserable and going through the motions. There’s an elaborate missing finger farce that turns a bunch of action movie cliches on their head. We meet a few new investigators and, buddy, do we like them. They’re led by a heavyset Frenchman with long, flowing brown hair who fashions himself an expert of investigations and women and just about everything else, and there are long conversations between him and his team that seem to exist just for the writers to show off a little, which is not a complaint at all.

Oh, remember the thing I said about the disbanded folk duo? Our protagonist, John, was one half of that duo and sometimes — either to drive home the depths of his broken brain or because it’s cool, or both — there are huge chunks of the show that are narrated by him, in voiceover, in the lyrics to a song he is singing that describes everything that is happening on-screen and in his head. I almost didn’t tell you that. It took me a minute or two to pick it up on my own and the discovery was a delight. I was like “Wait a second… is he… no… hold on, he is” and then I backed up and listened from the beginning. But you won’t have to do that. Because I gave you this heads up. Here to help.

Are you seeing now why I get nervous recommending this show? It’s just so… different. It’s really not quite like anything else on television right now and it’s offbeat in a way that will either captivate you or turn you off entirely. I’ve told people I like it and been met with blank stares. I’ve told other people I like it and we immediately hug like long-lost siblings. Give it a try. I won’t be upset if you throw up your hands and say “Feh, not for me” after an episode or two. There’s plenty of television out there and plenty of shows other people like that I can’t get into. But let me put it this way: You don’t have to like Patriot to be my friend. I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t like things I like and vice versa. I have close, dear friends who have seen Dave Matthews Band in concert multiple times.

If you do like Patriot, though, for all of its quirks and twists and slightly askew nature, well, I bet we’d get along pretty well.

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