‘Tyrant’ Season Premiere Discussion: Is The Series’ Potential Greater Than Its Flaws?

Last Saturday night, I sat down to watch the pilot for Tyrant on FX. By the time it was over, with Barry sitting in an airplane trying to escape his home country of Abbudin again before he was sucked right back into the world of his corrupt, dysfunctional, and dictatorial family, I was hooked. Most of that had to do with The Godfather parallels: I was excited about the potential of using The Godfather as a blueprint for a show about a dictator in a Middle-Eastern country. That’s cool.

While I could definitely see some of the flaws in the pilot episode — Adam Rayner (Barry) is wooden at times; the show is ripe for a Dana Brody problem; the American wife is dim for knowing so little about her own husband’s family and past (hey! Read a newspaper, lady!) — I still loved the potential of the series, and that’s what a pilot is for: To introduce the premise, and lay out the immediate complications.

By the time the actual pilot aired on FX, however, I was starting to feel guilty for liking it. There were plenty of positive reviews, and others that saw potential in the series, but reviews from Daniel Fienberg — who wrote about the whitewashing the series did with the lead character, Adam Rayner — and Maureen Ryan’s indictment of the series for its rape cliches made me feel like a sh*tty person for not hating the series.

But I didn’t. And though the Middle-Eastern stereotypes were obvious, those are things that I like to think can be worked out in future episodes, as we get to know the characters better. I agree that they should’ve endeavored to find a Middle-Eastern actor to play the lead character (although, several of the actors — including the actor who plays Jamal — are Middle-Eastern). I also agree that Jamal was plenty horrible in the pilot without the addition of the rape, and there were definitely better ways to get that point across without resorting to that.

And yet … I still love the promise of Tyrant. I love the idea of Jamal running Abbudin like Sonny Corleone running the Mafia. I love the political tension at play: How violent do you have to be to suppress protests before you overdo it and the masses finally rise up? I like the idea of Barry sticking around and trying to control his brother’s maniacal, homicidal tendencies. I like the idea of Barry applying reason and humanism to a dictatorship. I like the idea of Barry being torn between loyalty to his Abbudin family, his American family, and his childhood friend (now a dissenting voice in the media). I like the idea of Barry having to fight off his own violent impulses, his own internal conflicts, and the call of power. Maybe Barry can turn Abbudin into a democracy? Or maybe he gets power hungry and goes mad? Those are exciting dramatic possibilities to me.

No, I don’t like the gay-son subplot. Or the Dana Brody daughter subplot. But I do like the idea that Jamal’s wife is the one with all the emotional power in that relationship, and that perhaps she will be the one who runs the country behind the scenes. And I also want to know what was the event that drove Barry away?

So, while noting the problems with the pilot, I am intrigued by it. I want to see where it goes, and goddamnit, I trust FX, which hasn’t let us down yet in the drama department. It’s possible that the network tried to create a show that’s too ambitious here, and is going to get hammered right out of the gate for being indelicate about sensitive issues. I get that, but I hope that subsequent episodes put some of those problems behind us and Tyrant gets down to the business of running a mad, power-hungry dictatorship.

What did you folks think?