One episode was provided for reviewing purposes.
Normally drenched in the testosterone-fueled basic cable minutate of rescuing bars and mastering ink, Spike this week is launching its own scripted mini-series surrounding the events of Tutankhamun and his short, but brutal, reign as the Pharoah of Egypt. The series, succinctly titled Tut, is awash in the requisite amount of lavishly designed sets that you can imagine are required by a show set around 1320 B.C., and it gets decent mileage out of a simple political court backstabbing plot in its first night.
Unfortunately, the show’s creators give you little reason to invest much time into Tut’s barely-a-decade rule, the course of which will spill out over the course of three nights beginning this Sunday. Tut’s rule begins when his father is poisoned by an infidel, and the young boy must begin navigating the shadowy politics of the palace where he believes not everyone has his best interest at heart. It’s a simple set-up with real potential, especially given Tutankhamun’s hazy real-world legacy, but bland dialogue and the lack of a compelling central thrust poisons the show faster than the effects of Tut’s father’s own slow demise.
Most of the show rides on Tut himself (Avan Jogia), and that could as well be some of the problem. Jogia acclimates himself well to the hammy dialogue and somewhat over-the-top speeches he gets saddled with, but he just can’t carry the series on his own. Those around him don’t fare much better, including Tut’s chief vizier Ay (Ben Kingsley), his half-sister, half-wife Ankhe (Sibylla Deen), the rash General Horemheb (Nonso Anozie), and friendly revolutionary Lagus (Iddo Goldberg), whom Tut befriends in a sort of Undercover Boss: Ancient Thebes Edition.
They’re all fine, but you won’t be remembering their names anytime soon. Night One’s biggest problem, in fact, is that any of their actions are so sloppily explained that the events that unfold that are meant to shock or titillate come off as, well, trivial. Wars are fought with the Mitanni because we’re told they’re bad, sex is had on hot summer nights in the sand-dusted palace because we’re told someone is in love, but that’s the problem with Tut: it tells you everything you need to know but doesn’t actually explain why any of it is happening.
Writers Michael Vickerman, Peter Paige and Bradley Bredeweg obviously wanted to infuse Tut with a bit of that Game of Thrones magic along the way, and it works, sporadically. The sets of the show impress, as do its costumes, but they can feel empty and hollow in moments meant to impose grandeur.
A show that casts Englishman Kingsley as an aging Egyptian vizier may cause some to wonder if Tut is worth checking out for sheer camp value, but it fails that test, as well. It’s too serious, too full of itself, to be both laughed at and laughed with. Kingsley is another wasted talent here, as well, phoning in his lines and appearing to be wholly uninterested in playing the duality of a father figure slash possible antagonist; really, in the banality of it all, it’s easy to lose track fast of who wants to kill Tut and who doesn’t.
Not much is known about Tutankhamun’s actual reign in Egypt beyond its 9 years, and the heavily-publicized tomb unearthed in the early twentieth century. This could have provided the show’s creators with enough generous wiggle room to etch out their own take on the boy king within the little-known historical accuracies. Instead, the heavy focus on Tut’s contributions to Egyptian heritage — which, in the modern era, extends to a few textbook passages brushed past by teachers meeting their Ancient Egypt syllabus requirements — leaves Tut, as a television series, dramatically hollow. The boy king himself may be remembered for simply dying, but I doubt the same will be said about Spike’s new series.
Suitably blood-drenched and lavish, but narratively hollow, Spike's new mini-series Tut is about as slow moving as the titular boy king's mummified corpse, and feels just as fresh.