Tyrant Series Premiere Review: “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)



Out of the gate, Tyrant grabs your attention with a solid pilot episode. It’s entertaining, thought provoking, and fans of FX will be easily drawn to the family drama at the core of a much larger story of political unrest in the Middle East. Told through the perspective of the estranged, Americanized son of a dictator, Tyrant offers viewers a story that puts a hopeful spin on a disillusioned tale.

FX has proven that it isn’t afraid to take on controversial subject matters and it continues to do so with Tyrant. The series breaches a topic that has been bastardized in global media for decades now (whether deserved or not), and does so with a finesse that creates an intriguing story arc worthy of your attention. In the debut episode, Tyrant paves the road for the series to become potentially must-see TV.

Off the bat, it looks like Tyrant is trying to do two things. First, romanticize a culture that is often portrayed in a negative light, ergo the alluring backdrops and unusually provocative wardrobe choices in both men and women. And, second, humanize the inner workings of a political structure that has a tendency to rub those who are democratically inclined the wrong way – e.g. the conversations between Bassam “Barry” Al Fayeed (Adam Rayner) and his father. Both of these things contribute heavily to telling a story that is equal parts original and dynamic.

Barry is clearly a complex character. Although he has demanded his independence from his family by relocating to the United States and maintaining a healthy distance over the last twenty years from anything resembling the political hierarchy he left behind, he doesn’t quite seem to assert himself in his home life in the same way. We see early on that he carries a certain amount of clout with his father, despite his extensive absence from his familial duties, but he has trouble controlling anyone in his nuclear family – with the exception of his daughter.

His wife, Molly (Jennifer Finnigan), consistently undermines him throughout the episode which comes across as obnoxious, and his son, Sammy (Noah Silver), lacks a healthy respect for the family hierarchy, which comes across as bratty. The shining spot in his family is definitely his daughter, Emma (Anne Winters), who possesses a combination of reverence for her father and a natural sense of skepticism for things unknown.

The contrast between the siblings, both Emma and Sammy, and Barry and his brother, Jamal (Ashraf Barhom), seem to be central to the story being told. As the series expands on the ideas presented in the pilot, the conflicts between these individual pairs, some of which we already witnessed to a limited degree, are going to expand. The flashbacks to Barry’s past plainly show that his differences with his brother are deep seated, yet in the present situation, it is almost too predictable to say that he will stay and protect his family legacy despite them.

Although the characters are still very raw, there’s an obvious potential to them all. The story has been staged to allow for any number of outcomes, and hopefully an explosive season finale cliffhanger that will keep viewers on the edge of their seat, begging for more. With only nine episodes to showcase the impact of Barry’s choice to return to his home country and introduce his family to his former life and lifestyle, Tyrant has taken on a daunting task. Let’s hope FX can deliver.