One episode was provided for review purposes prior to broadcast.
One of the more notable trends in recent television has been putting powerful women on the frontlines of the war against terror. From Showtime’s Homeland to CBS’ Madam Secretary and NBC’s State of Affairs, network execs seem caught up on a certain character type: a tough-as-nails, proudly female protagonist who’s strong-willed enough to go it alone whenever she’s as obstructed by people on her own team as the ones she’s fighting against. NBC’s American Odyssey isn’t exactly revolutionary in that aspect – and it owes a lot more than just its hero’s characterization to Homeland – but by casting Anna Friel in the lead role of a betrayed soldier finding her way home, it does set itself apart.
Friel, you see, brings an intelligence and intensity to her part that, based on very early impressions, may mark her for awards consideration down the line. As Odelle Ballard, a Special Forces translator suddenly plunged into a labyrinth of shady corporate dealings, top-secret military cover-ups and bloodstained realpolitik after her team finds a wanted terrorist dead in Mali with a computer containing American business documents, she’s simultaneously playing a sharp-witted soldier, a back-stabbed patriot, a desperate mother and an obstinate survivor. And the actress nails the balancing act.
Odelle isn’t the only player in American Odyssey, which is certainly one of the more ambitious shows NBC has brought to television in recent years (the network has repeatedly described it as Traffic-like, though it has yet to earn that comparison). After surviving an airstrike intended to wipe out her unit, Odelle becomes the unlikely hostage of a Malian boy named Aslan (Omar Ghazaoui, a revelation), who decides to shepherd her from one captor to another, only to wind up an accomplice in her flight from murderous mercenaries.
Meanwhile, back stateside, a U.S. attorney-turned-corporate lawyer (Peter Facinelli) is becoming increasingly convinced that U.S. firm SOC, made up of people so powerful they seem damn near untouchable, is involved in some incredibly dastardly dealing with insurgents overseas. And elsewhere, activist Harrison Walters (Jake Robinson) is at the heart of New York’s Occupy movement, holding the one percent accountable with as much volume as he can muster, when an eccentric conspiracy theorist named Bob (Nate Mooney) comes to him with a piece of evidence that could blow SOC’s illegal operations wide open – and paints a target on both their backs.