‘Tyrant’ Series Premiere Review

Published 1 month ago by

The cast of Tyrant Tyrant Series Premiere Review

[This is a review of the Tyrant series premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]


Almost as much has been made about Tyrant being The Godfather of the Middle East, as has been made about the series’ very rocky road from inception to a finished pilot that convinced FX this was a series worth investing in. After all the creative shakeups, the departures of director Ang Lee and creator Gideon Raff, and the re-shoots that were still reportedly necessary even though another director from the world of film – in this case, David Yates – took the helm, the suggestion was this must be quite the special series if, after so much trouble, the powers that be would fight to keep it alive. The trouble is, then, after having seen the series premiere, it’s difficult to ascertain what, exactly had captivated them so much.

The story concerns Bassam Al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner) – although he goes by Barry – the second son of a Middle Eastern dictator in the fictional country of Abbudin. And while the main thrust of the narrative sees Barry returning to his native country after 20 years of what is quickly established to be a sort of self-imposed exile from his family, the story doesn’t just feel like a deliberate homage to The Godfather; it feels like an uninspired mash-up of several prominent television tropes from the last 15 years or so.

Barry has deliberately distanced himself from his father, brother, and mother, but, like all complicated men on television these days, he’s reticent to share his reasoning with his wife Molly (Jennifer Finnigan), even though he responds to her prodding as to why he is reluctant to return home by saying, “They’re not my family. You’re my family.” Which is an awful nice thing for Barry to say to his wife, but as the story progresses, it is unclear whether he actually thinks that or if he’s just placating her because he’s afraid of who he really is. That’s a potentially interesting wrinkle in the character, but this “man who can’t trust himself, so he lies to himself and his family” routine doesn’t play out as anything that hasn’t been seen countless times before. Furthermore, this early on, the routine only reduces Barry to a completely flat character, rather than an enigma whose future is set to emerge and become incredibly complicated due to an unprecedented string of coincidences that erupt over the course of his brief return home.

The cast of Tyrant in Tyrant Season 1 Episode 1 Tyrant Series Premiere Review

Of course, that particular home is the key component to Tyrant’s potential appeal but it could also turn out to be its biggest obstacle in terms of selling the series to American audiences. And in attempting to mitigate those concerns, Howard Gordon and his crew may have opened the series up to some key issues of concern. For one, despite this being the tale of a Middle Eastern dictatorship, Adam Rayner, a white, English actor, has been cast in the lead role. Despite the addition of Alice Krige as Barry’s mother, the decision is bound to stir up plenty of negative press (deservedly so). To make matters worse, the decision to cast Rayner is, as yet, not offset by a truly compelling or wildly successful performance on his part. Similarly, and perhaps more concerning, is the fact that the characters are all speaking English all the time. While on one hand this can be overlooked from an ease of storytelling point of view (the audience can just take it at face value that it is assumed the characters are not speaking English in certain instances), the show’s choice to eschew the use of subtitles reads rather disingenuous in terms of creating an authentic sense of place for its narrative to be set in – fictional though it may be.

The dialogue isn’t the only issue at hand in terms of the show’s struggles to create a true sense of what Abbudin is all about. Even though Tyrant is aiming for storylines that are fresh in the public’s memory – e.g., Iran, Iraq, and more recently Syria – the location, as it is presented in the pilot, comes off feeling very generic and too reliant on stereotype. Furthermore, none of the American characters seem at all concerned they’re traveling to an unstable region run by a dictator. It is an area of the world where terrorists are threatening to attack the wedding of Barry’s nephew and yet Barry’s wife and kids, Sammy (Noah Silver) and Emma (Anne Winters) respond to their trip abroad as if they’re traveling to some exotic resort where they’ll be regarded as VIPs. There is zero discussion of the potential dangers inherent in visiting such a destination – not to mention the fact that Barry’s father is a dictator. That level of disconnect, the failure of the characters to respond realistically (or at all) to their changed environment, offers a dramatic setback in terms of the significance of what is clearly about to happen to Barry, and how the series would like you to feel about that change.

All of this says nothing of how stock most of the characters manage to come across. Sammy and Emma continue Howard Gordon’s longstanding tradition of making teenagers stand out by bestowing upon them the most repugnant personalities possible – as though the only way to make a young person interesting is through their irrepressible desire to be insolent, sulky, or arrogant (sometimes all at once). But the characters in Abbudin are scarcely any better. And although his performance brings some much-needed energy to the proceedings, Barry’s brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom) mostly resembles a heavy-handed homage to Sonny Corleone mixed with Uday Hussein – or at least Dominic Cooper‘s rendition of him in The Devil’s Double.

Ashraf Barhom and Adam Rayner in Tyrant Season 1 Episode 1 Tyrant Series Premiere Review

Meanwhile, Barry’s father, Khaled Al-Fayeed (Nasser Faris) barely makes an appearance at all and his death at the end of the pilot reduces his future contributions to the flashbacks of young Bassam. Through that flashback the pilot is offered a late twist that, if developed properly, could offer Barry’s character the kind of depth he desperately needs. And yet the reveal that a very young Barry executed a man without his father telling him to do so, and that he’s spent the past two decades running from the man he may truly be, boils down to yet another too familiar characterization: The depiction of a difficult man who is keeping things from those close to him, which primarily means his unsuspecting wife.

This depiction of difficult men feels so familiar that even the radically different setting does little to make it feel remotely fresh. The script gets so tied up in explaining its characters through tropes there’s no sense to how they actually see themselves. That’s most evident when Barry suddenly turns into Ray Donovan and tells his wife, “The reason Jamal is so broken is because my father broke him.” That’s a fairly perfunctory explanation of a individual who bullies, slices, and rapes his way through the pilot episode.

All of this adds up to the question of what does Tyrant want to be? Is it about the role of politics in a conflict-ridden region? Is it about morality and the lure of absolute power? Or is it about a toxic family and the conflict that emerges from a need to be loyal? It could prove to be any or all of the above. And as the series progresses, there’s hope that it does those things but does them far better than it did in the pilot, because, as it stands now, it feels like Jamal may not be all that’s broken with this series.


Tyrant continues next Tuesday with ‘State of Emergency’ on FX @10pm.

Photos: Patrick Harbron/FX

TAGS: tyrant


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  1. Hmmm, I am afraid this show just does not seem to have anything to make me want to connect with it. Think I’ll give it a pass. There are other more promising-sounding shows coming up for the next season, between new ones, old ones back for second or third seasons, and upcoming movies. Think I will probably have my hands and dance-card pretty full without this one.

    • You forgot to mention Netflix ;)

    • How can you decide if you haven’t seen it? Dont be a slave to ratings and critics grow a brain and try making your own decisions based off experience not 3 minutes of reading a specific blog.

  2. I accidentally stumbled across this show while flipping channels. It quickly drew me in, and I had to watch the rerun to catch the parts I missed. I think this will be a great series. Can’t wait to see the rest.

    • I couldnt agree with you more. Even tho I was pretty sure I know whats gonna happen next. I didnt want to end.I literally shouted, awe come on! Lol

    • I liked the show with the exception of the stupid wife and the stereotypical know-it-all, obnoxious, gay son. I kept screaming at the TV slap the s**t out of them and cheered when he slapped the son in the hospital.

      Looking forward to see where this show goes.

      • Make the boy bisexual at least, otherwise he’d be killed off real soon in those places. “You’re not in America anymore”.

  3. yea i couldnt get into this pilot, i usually liek the shows on FX and with SOA and justfified going into there last seasons a few shows have to fill the void, i think The Americans will become a little more popular and im excited for The Strain…Tyrant will be a one and done or maybe 2 seasons

  4. Oh come on for petes sake! If Ben Afflack had been cast in this show the people at screen rant wouldnt have anything but praise for the premier. And saying its mash up of plots and story telling thats been done many times before is disingenuous. There hasn’t been a show or movie in the last 40 years that hasn’t imitated or borrowed ideas from something thats come before it since the first couple of decades tv has been around. So you can’t hold that against it. Further more, not only do I believe this show will have a long run. But id go as far as to say it will be popular and successful. Lest you forget, theres a new demographic of people out there who hollywood has really taken notice of. I am talking of course of the hispanic tv/ movie goer audience. And this show has the kind of stuff they like. Drama! although I am technically white. I am also half hispanic. And this show sucked me in completely. Which is not to say the writer of this review may not have had some valid points. I myself am usually critical of what I watch. But maybe its the latin in me, I dont know? But I really liked the show. And I even got mad when it ended. And something tells me that this show is going be big with latino audiences. Just wait and see

    • That’s just silly talk right there.

      Until Argo, Affleck was seen as a joke, much the same as McConaughey was until just recently when he won people over with a variety of roles in film and TV that removed him from the “cheesy actor in bad romcoms” category and placed him firmly into the “wow, this guy is amazing” box instead.

      I saw this episode out of curiosity and yeah, I agree with the review, I just couldn’t get into it at all for a variety of reasons.

    • What are you talking about?????????????????????

    • I watched the pilot and am into the second episode now. Though it’s a beautiful series to look at, I have to side with the reviewer. It’s kind of hard to get past how stupid the wive would have to be to try and convince her husband to return to a country ruled by a dictator with numerous human rights infractions. It’s like she’s never heard of the news…ever. The kids would have to be almost as stupid with FB, Twitter, Youtube, and a 24 hour news cycle. The daughter seems to be the only saving grace, as the son is already way too annoying.

      For the show to continue, the wive will have to get even dumber. She’ll have to ignore kidnappings, bombings, news from her friends in America, unless she doesn’t have any friends (if they have any sense they may have ended the friendship) or any friends willing to call her. I think I would side with them.

      • Actually, its perfect showing the wife and kids as such. The majority of Americans, despite fb, Twitter, internet, etc., live in a bubble that is show cleverly displays. In addition, what news should she have watched? Let us be careful not to judge the so-called “dictators” of the world. This show is displaying how much more complicated the Middle East can be and ruling the people there is a task very few will ever understand. Yes, people, youre not in Kansas anymore.

        • John:

          I have been reading all the postings here and so far your post is the only one that makes any sense as to why I should give this show a try. I have been recording all of the episodes so far but haven’t watched them thinking that the show may be a little too unrealistic for my likes. However, your comments make sense when you take into account just how ignorant most Americans are…

  5. I love most FX shows – but even with all the marketing they did for this, I have zero interest.

  6. I love this show! I can’t for next weeks episode.

    • Right on!

  7. Yeah, I have to admit it’s hard to get passed the point that this guys American family didn’t really seem to have a problem with or care about the fact that their father in law and grandfather is a dictator that seems to have a fairly public reputation for being a… Tyrant.

    So maybe just maybe they should listen to their father and husband when he makes it pretty clear that no matter what they may think, he knows what really goes on inside his family.

  8. I liked it…I liked it despite everything that the review stated being kinda true. There was a smallness to it that kind of bothered me however. I find it hard to believe that the new leader would still be allowed to zip around in his extremely flashy sports car. That’s cool if your the 197th cousin to the King of Saudi Arabia but not the new leader of the next potential failed state in the Middle East. I didn’t like the US Embassy guy. If he’s the CIA rep he sucks. I’d like to know where they get their money. Is this supposed to be Jordan or an oil rich country like the UAE. They have a chance here to explore the mess the Middle East is and really always was. I like the cast and having spent the last 13 years in and around the area “enjoying” the culture, I found it believable enough for TV. There are plenty of shows that hone their craft after the pilot so lets see where this goes. FX bats only slightly less then 1000 so I’ll give this a chance.

    …Oh and did the Teen son have to be gay? Come on….

    • Like you,having spent more time that I would like to repeat in the ME… the “stereotypes ring 100% accurate to the culture. I agree that the son being gay could be a cop out ploy….. but only if they fail to follow through. There could be a lot of intriguing and controversial discussion about the reality of homosexual behaviors and denials in the ME. That the potential “love interest” for the son might well be interested in a sexual relationship with him.. but would never consider himself to be homosexual. And would readily kill anyone who suggested that he was. While much has been made of the violence against the women in the show… I also appreciated that Jamal’s wife was shown as being very strong and in command in her home.. ME women have more power behind the scenes that the West gives them credit for. Could be interesting IF… and only IF.. they choose to examine the realities.

    • His son is gay and his daughter is a feminist. Drama Llama alert

      • Gay son, Feminist daughter, clueless wife…

        Who is this show trying to stereotype, the Middle East, America or both?

  9. I Love this show! I’m hooked & I can’t wait to see it again next week. It’s brutal but has enough intriguing characters to keep me watching. Definitely Interesting!

  10. “Find out if this Middle Eastern-set family drama will turn out to be the network’s biggest hit yet.”


  11. While I can see your points with the review, I still found myself having fun and enjoying this pilot episode well enough to see where the show takes us.

  12. I didn’t really watch the show, though I meant to. I just wanted throw out there, that, Adam Rayner (Bassam Al-Fayeedin the show) would be a good Doctor Strange… So just incase the show doesn’t do well then…hit it up dude!

    • Not too sure if this has been discussed elsewhere, but in regards to your Doctor Strange comment, my money would be on Aiden Gillan (of Queer As Folk, The Wire, Love/Hate, Game Of Thrones fame). Hell in season 4 of GOT they gave him grey/white on the temples and dressed him in long ornate robes, they MADE him Doctor Strange! See here: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/55943220342649142/

  13. I thought it was engaging enough. I guess I was supposed to judge it as some sort of treatise on life in the Middle East, but the only comparison I made throughout was with the original Dallas. The only differences were location and the replacement of the Romeo/Juliet plot with a ready-made family which will probably provide more dramatic meat than the aforementioned, as Barnes vs Ewing got old fast.

  14. I find this show to be one of the most promising tv viewing options for the summer. why such a rough review? complaints of being an unoriginal concept seem disingenuous here. anything is better than the cheeseball network clones. i get very annoyed when shows like terriers have to get canceled but corny shows drag on for years. hoping people give shows like this a chance more often. supporting original concepts help prevent all the spinoffs and ripoffs that plague tv and movies. not much motivation for hollywood to stop making low quality programming and films when the people keep flocking to the next NCIS city or michael bay trash.

    • Agreed, I read the review, watched the pilot, then reread the review, and couldn’t disagree more with the review. There are many things that are much worse on TV this time of year, regarding TV series.

      Although I might have missed a few details, I just assumed that Abbudin was a fictional part of the U.A.E. which helped sell it a little more for me location/atmosphere wise. Also, Barry was believable to me, because it felt like throughout the show he was hiding his true personality/secrets behind a veil that I would assume we would/will learn more about over time.

  15. I’m taking a wait and see approach to this show. The pilot was flawed. Some of the Americans should have been down right afraid to be in the country. Why didn’t anyone see the unrest that was around them? Why didn’t Barry’s wife do any research about his country? Or was she just an idiot who wanted to go somewhere to be treated like a princess? The Americans have to be reworked…all of them including the guy who is probably a CIA agent.

    I want to like this show. The Middle East has been a ticking time bomb for America for decades. This could be a good show about an Americanized Arab who wants to bring democracy to his country and has to fight everyone including the CIA and his crazy brother.

    By the way, what was Mom doing while Daddy was teaching Barry and his brother to be ruthless leaders?

    The pilot was burdened with trying to establish the basis for a lot of characters and different storylines. It might have been stronger if it focused on one character and maybe the Americans more intelligent. Come on, if I was married to a man who might be “king” someday, I think I would read a book or two about his country — even if he didn’t want to talk about it.

  16. I liked the concept and it was good acting but the absurdity of his family, especially his wife and son not supporting him, given the situation, really broke immersion for me. What a daft wife and stupid as hell son.

  17. Barry (Bassam) feels like Bashir Assad, while his father seems like the Shah of Iran, and his brother Jamal like Uday Hussein. The country is a generic 70′s Arab country

    Barry is a western trained doctor with a westernized wife, who at the start is unknown to have a cold blooded killer within, just like Bashir el-Assad. The kids seem like stereotypical disconnected American teens.

    It would be interesting if Barry, knowing the downfall of dictators in the Middle East carries through reforms with his journalist pal… if he attempts to follow the Chinese Model of economic reform with a controlling central party, that would probably be too much for the writers to handle, but it could be interesting. Or he could just become Bashir Assad as he seems preordained to be.

    • Let’s just say Barry is Half-Assad at this point…

      • lol that was a good zing!

  18. I just have to say that I really liked the pilot, can not wait for the next episode. It kept me wondering what was going to happen next, then @ the end, leaves you like “come on, I have to wait until next Tuesday” I am sure it will do well with keeping a large audience & have very good ratings.

  19. I can understand how the American family doesn’t question their grandfather is a dictator openly on screen. It’s not like these kids just found out about it. They grew up their whole lives (I’m sure) knowing who and what he is. And the wife must have known before she married. So that thread doesn’t concern me. They don’t need to dumb it down for is all to know what a dictatorship is, we apparently have flash backs for that. I think it will be a good view and intend to see more of what it has to offer before I give it the chop. If I judged the value of a show based on the first episode I would have never stuck with sons of anarchy which also had a cookie cutter feel before all the plot threads started to mature.

  20. I just finished watching the show and I actually like it. I’m looking forward to it now that my OITNB binge is over. The family did seem disconnected with it all especially the kids. I just want to hit them. So I rewound a few times when it did happen.Though they’re kids I’m sure they’ll know how deep in the pooper they are later. Especially since they’re dangling the gay son in our face, and their daughter is a feminist. I thought to myself it’s not safe to be gay here don’t be an idiot you can’t be different they’ll kill you and then stopped everything because that was dark.I’m not sure how’ll they’ll work the wife yet besides that ‘I care in a nagging way’. I hope they’ll expand her character in a way that pushes the plot beside that refrigerator girlfriend complex. I’m looking forward to all the back stories of the characters. Seeing how this effects the country and how the people respond. Hopefully in a realistic manner. This show has a great potential to evolve with a wide array of characters at its disposal. Besides the family there is the friend and his daughter, terrorist groups, embassy people, and then add the politics and maybe religion. I can’t wait to see the assassination attempts. I’m betting on a dead child to be the tipping point into Barry accepting the ‘darkness’ inside of him. Also maybe it’ll make people more interested in what goes on beyond our borders and their comfort zones to do some digging theirselves.

  21. I enjoyed it a lot.Sure Barrys family is grating but everything esle about the show is fantastic. Im suprised by the negative reviews its getting.

    Also the actor playing Barry doesn’t look British,he looks just as middle eastern as the rest of the actors-in fact I woudl not have known he was british if critics weren’t whining about it.The actor is in my own opinion easily the best part of the series

  22. I haven’t seen this show yet but I have it recorded on my DVR.

    What I find very dismaying about all the comments here is that no one seems to have demonstrated any interest in suggesting if the show represents Arab culture properly. Instead, I see merely a litany of statements that represent only the fact that this show is nothing more than a soap-opera in the Mid-East, a region of the world that is expected to soon explode into a whirlwind of violence set in motion by the Versailles Treaty of 1919.

    “Spartacus”, to its credit, was actually a somewhat historically accurate representation of what actually happened to this figure in history and the depiction of Roman culture was fairly accurate as well in terms of its sociology.

    We should be asking ourselves with this latest release then if there is anything to be learned about Arab culture beyond the stereotypical interactions of the main characters. Unfortunately, according to one Palestinian who has seen the show, there is absolutely nothing of merit to suggest that “Tyrant” isn’t just another piece of degrading fluff dreamed up in the mind of an empty-headed studio executive…

  23. I really wanted to like this show. Just couldn’t, for many of the reasons cited in the review and the fact that the actor playing Barry has a strong resemblance(mannerisms as well) to Rob Lowe. Too weird.

  24. It doesn’t matter that the show didn’t focus on the doubts his wife and kids obviously must’ve had about going to his home country. The point was to get the family to the Middle East as fast as possible. That is where the series actually starts, so they did a good job addressing their typical American life but keeping it short.

    It doesn’t matter the lead character is a British actor. Period. He’s likeable (actually the only likeable character so far) and totally believable.

    It doesn’t matter it’s a fictional country, or that they all speak English, or that it doesn’t show exactly what it’s like to live in a Iraq-like country nowadays. It doesn’t need to be accurate. This is a story about a man, taken out of his comfort zone, who travels to a completely different world. A hobbit in Mordor. Marty McFly in the fifties. Nicolas Cage in a ‘glimpse’.

    The title TYRANT is probably about him. Barry. Not about his father or brother. It might have taken a page out of Breaking Bad, in the sense that we’ll see a good guy turn bad.

    This is a series that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The only thing that went a little over the top for me, was the brother Jamal. We get it, it’s a bad guy. No need to make him cartoonish. The actor is great, though. The writers just came up with ways to make the audience feel even more unnecessarily uncomfortable.

    O, and stop comparing stuff to The Godfather.

  25. Did not care for the the show. I changed the channel.

  26. Was this show written in pre-information age? Why does Barry’s wife keep asking him why he hates it in Abbudin and why he hates his family? If his father is a middle east tyrant akin to Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi, why is she so eager for him to reconnect? Even in pre-internet times , during the first Gulf war – 1991, newspapers and news programs were talking about how evil Hussein was and all the terrible things he was doing. Now with 24 hour new channels and the internet, how could his family not be privy to Barry’s father’s tyrannical ways? Again, why does his wife keep pressing him to reconnect with these people? If they were a mpb family and he’d gotten out, would his wife just keep pestering him to jump into that life?

    For me this is one of the biggest gaps in the plot. Perhaps it will be revealed that his wife is just a terrible, terrible person, who knows? I just have a seriously hard time believing that a seemingly strong female character would be oblivious to the fact that her husband’s father is a murderous dictator, but wouldn’t it be great to have high tea together sometime?

  27. I’ve watched and I really liked it. There’s depth and complexity, as another commenter said it drew me in, it was entertaining to me I guess.

  28. I enjoyed it and will keep watching but I have to agree that some of the characters, particularly his American family, aren’t believable. I find the wife particularly problematic.

    She doesn’t seem to be an idiot… yet she seems incapable of comprehending that the son of a ruthless dictator might not have had a wonderfully cheery childhood.

    While I’m sure many Westerners don’t fully understand life in the Middle East, the level of ignorance of some of these characters is too much.

  29. How is everyone looking past the fact of the son ( of the potential new dictator/ruler of a region where homosexuality is punishable by public torture,stoning,and ultimately a painfu public death while condemned to Hell) and having to make a choice to support the decision of his son or follow outdated culture by exiling or murdering his own son to protect the safety of the rest of his family let alone the repect from the dictated people. Being gay in the ME is a no no and the choice papa must make can be a series in itself. My advise is free your mind for for jam packed dramma and questionable decisions that will have to be made for the safety of his family and to prevent complete tyranny from a religion driven country that the state of mind and culture that the American people couldnt fathom or truly comprehend!!! This show will blow up and as the series contiues, the closed minded and cultured deprived will begin to lose interest due to their ignorance of cultural differences across the pond however the open minded will begin to undetstand that life is a lot tougher than choosing which tv dinner to warm up to watch Tyrant. The subtleties that depict that lifestyle may.

    not be as obvious as you’d like but educate yourself and don’t be so afraid to embrace the idea of cultural diversity and maybe that bubble you are in can be a thing of the past once you break through and learn to embrace that the way of life overthere and you’ll be hooked. Not always will your hand be held throughout a story line and maybe just maybe you sceptics will enjoy the show after your initial dismissal. Educate yourselves and you may be surprised how intelligent and mainstream tis show really is!!!

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