Amazon’s Patriot Adds Gallows Humor to Covert Ops

TV Reviews Patriot
Amazon’s Patriot Adds Gallows Humor to Covert Ops

You know he’s going to do it. You know. It’s dead obvious he’s going to do it.

And yet, it will startle the hell out of you when John Tavner (Michael Dorman) just up and pushes that guy in front of a speeding truck.

Amazon’s new original series, Patriot, is a dark, quirky and often hilarious take on the covert-ops trope—a little like The Office has moved to Langley. After a helicopter crash forces a potentially disastrous change to an Iranian election, Tavner, an Iraq War vet, is sent to prevent the country from going nuclear, under cover as a project manager for an industrial piping company in Milwaukee.

He’s… well, he’s a little stressed out. In a comically blank, ticking bomb sort of way. His wife’s worried about him and doesn’t know where he is. He doesn’t know anything about piping. His boss (Kurtwood Smith) hates him. The guy he pushed in front of the truck? Not quite dead. The money he’s supposed to have transferred to the guy in Luxembourg? Wrong guy. The overeager and workout-happy coworker (Chris Conrad) he’s had to confess his secret identity to? A liability, though useful if you wouldn’t otherwise pass a drug test. There’s a dead guy who wasn’t supposed to be dead, and now he’s flirting with investigation by a very determined and strikingly attractive detective (Ailette Opheim). His brother, Edward (Michael Chernus), a senator with some secrets, has been sent in to help, with mixed results, because, oh yeah, their dad (Terry O’Quinn) uses them to do sub rosa stuff for the State Department. And that’s for starters.

Cleverly shot and very well-written, Patriot is both a cringe-inducing festival of gallows-humor and a genuine contemplation of a man on the brink. Dorman is pitch-perfect as an operative who is half ruthless assassin and half wannabe folk singer (he has an unfortunate habit of spouting lyrics detailing his mission at open mics). Every shot of his face tells you this guy is running out of coping strategies (I think the spontaneous lyrics illuminate that as well). The writing is whimsical, weird and pretty complex. There are times when the uneasy détente between comedy and drama is stretched too thin, or when the timing feels a little strained or strange. There are times when it’s just trying too hard to be idiosyncratic. But on balance, I found it intriguing. The direction is solid and the cast is excellent. Writer-director Steve Conrad is clearly having a good time here, and he has some pretty major assets in both his cast and his script. It’ll be fun to see where this is going. Other than Luxembourg.

The first season of Patriot premieres today on Amazon Prime.

Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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