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Sorry Fans Of '24' And 'Homeland,' FX's New Show 'Tyrant' Isn't Very Promising

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Last night, FX quietly debuted Tyrant, a new show from Executive Producer/Showrunner Howard Gordon, best known for shows Homeland and 24. Unlike those shows, which serve up international intrigue and action, Tyrant featured a mix of soap opera and stereotypes, making us wonder how long this show has to right its course before its reign ends?

The show centers on a Pasadena pediatrician Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner), and his wife Molly (Jennifer Finnegan), daughter Emma (Anne Winters) and Sammy (Noah Silver), as they prepare to return to Barry’s Middle Eastern fictitious homeland, Abbudin, for a family wedding. Barry, in a self-imposed exile for 20 years, just so happens to be the younger son of the war-torn nation’s dictator, Khaled Al-Fayeed (Nassir Faris).

Barry is tortured about the trip; we can tell because in his first scenes he’s pensive, moody, can’t sleep and then goes on a run to calm his nerves. (He’s also probably the most dedicated pediatrician in Pasadena, too, because he gets a call on his cell phone from a mom who insists that he’s the only one who can treat her kid(s). And even though he’s on a plane out of the country that day, Barry still agrees to meet her in the office.)

Barry’s family, both in America and in Abbudin, come off as single-dimensional characters. Molly is an optimistic, caring wife and mother who’s trying hard to understand her husband and his past; his daughter Emma is as leery of the return trip home as her father is; but her 16-year-old younger brother Sammy’s looking forward to the trip and being treated like royalty. (Nothing can go wrong culturally with a spoiled American teenager in war-torn Middle Eastern nation, right?)

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In Abbudin, Barry’s family rules with an iron hand. There’s no doubt or nuance about who the bad guys are here. In fact, in the pilot we viewed, we’re first introduced to Barry’s brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom) as he’s in the middle of raping a woman. The only reason he stops is to pick up his brother and family at the airport.

Tyrant’s first episode also lays groundwork for issues around homosexuality (Sammy's flirting with a boy) and freedom of the press—as one of Barry’s childhood friends is a journalist speaking against the Al-Fayeed regime. There’s also a past relationship between Barry and his brother’s wife Leila (Moran Atias) that will probably be explored further.

Of course, Barry and his family are forced to remain in Abbudin, which sets up the show’s whole premise: The prodigal son returning to help rebuild his country. While a lot of Tyrant’s episode was predictable, there was a moment near the end that surprised us—and may have saved the pilot. The violent pivotal scene showed, in flashback, a striking difference between the young “Bassam” and Jamal and the men they are today.

We’re hoping that the show quickly turns its focus away from melodramatic relationships and toward political drama and the complexities of life in Abbudin. If there’s anything we’ve learned from recent U.S. involvement in the Middle East, it’s that nothing is ever black and white.