Pa­triot a clever and quirky tale of a re­luc­tant spy

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - HANK STUEVER

From that shelf of words most of­ten used to de­scribe hard-to-peg TV shows, let’s go with “melan­choly” and “quirky” for Ama­zon’s “Pa­triot,” a 10-episode dram­edy about a de­pressed un­der­cover spy (Michael Dor­nan) sent on the com­pli­cated, morally bereft mis­sion of fix­ing a mis­take made by his in­tel­li­gence-of­fi­cer fa­ther, which, in a round­about way, in­volves a scheme to foil Iran’s nu­clear am­bi­tions.

“Pa­triot” is a trip-wired, sur­pris­ingly clever series. It’s the per­fect ex­am­ple of a show that should go on your list of shows to fi­nally watch some­day.

What’s that? You say your list al­ready has 49 shows on it, some of which you meant to watch three years ago? Well, that’s just how it is now: They keep mak­ing ‘em, crit­ics keep favourably re­view­ing ‘em and you’re left to won­der if you’ll ever leave the house again.

Sorry if this sounds a tad de­feated. “Pa­triot’s” blue mood might have rubbed off, par­tic­u­larly Dor­nan’s ef­fec­tively hang­dog por­trayal of John Tavner, a re­luc­tant spy if ever there was one. Ashamed of a mur­der he ac­ci­den­tally com­mit­ted in the line of duty, he’s been get­ting high in Am­s­ter­dam and per­form­ing acous­tic alt-coun­try bal­lads in cafés at night — songs strummed out on the fly, with lyrics that could be con­sid­ered breaches of na­tional se­cu­rity.

John’s fa­ther, Tom Tavner (“Lost’s” Terry O’Quinn), a former con­gress­man who is now the State Depart­ment’s di­rec­tor of in­tel­li­gence, calls on his son to help with an Iran-re­lated mis­sion, de­spite the misgivings of John’s wife, Alice (Kath­leen Mun­roe), who wor­ries about her hus­band’s state of mind. The mis­sion in­volves send­ing John to Mil­wau­kee, where, un­der as­sumed cover, he’s sup­posed to talk his way into a desk job at a pipe-man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany, which he gets, only af­ter push­ing a ri­val can­di­date in front of a bus.

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing the pipe ex­ec­u­tives to a sales meet­ing in Lux­em­bourg, John car­ries out his real mis­sion, but not with­out some hic­cups, in­clud­ing com­mit­ting a mur­der that gets the at­ten­tion of a lo­cal po­lice de­tec­tive, Agathe Al­bans (Ali­ette Opheim), who de­ter­minedly tracks the crime-scene clues back to Mil­wau­kee.

Al­though cre­ator/writer Steve Con­rad (whose screen­writ­ing credits in­clude “The Pur­suit of Hap­py­ness” and “The Se­cret Life of Wal­ter Mitty”) has made a show that has its own pe­cu­liar look and feel, he has also more or less repli­cated the ef­fect of a Joel and Ethan Coen film, in which a touch of cru­elty and dry wit can ef­fec­tively mesh. What he’s miss­ing is the Coen brothers’ mas­tery of mo­men­tum.

The pipe com­pany pro­vides a num­ber of ex­tra char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing John’s boss, Les­lie (Kurt­wood Smith), a re­cov­er­ing al­co­holic who takes an in­stant dis­like to the new hire; and a snoopy col­league, Dennis (Chris Con­rad), who is all too ea­ger to get in­volved in in­ter­na­tional es­pi­onage. There is also John’s younger brother, Ed­ward (Michael Ch­er­nus), who re­cently won Tom’s va­cated seat in Congress. Be­tween Mil­wau­kee, Lux­em­bourg, Wash­ing­ton and a few flash-for­wards and -back­wards in chronol­ogy (the show spans a pe­riod from 2011 to 2016), it’s a lot to keep track of right away, even if this golden tele­vi­sion era has made us all ex­perts in nar­ra­tive sprawl.

Try­ing too hard to play it ul­tra­cool, “Pa­triot’s” first few episodes are over­loaded with dis­trac­tions and flour­ishes; the show takes its own sweet (but en­joy­able) time to find its stride. And view­ers are run­ning low these days on that kind of pa­tience, even if “Pa­triot” is worth in­dulging.

EL­IZ­A­BETH MORRIS, AMA­ZON PRIME VIDEO

Michael Dor­nan and Mark Boone Jr. in “Pa­triot,” a series with a Coen Bros. feel that meshes cru­elty and dry wit. “Pa­triot” (10 episodes) be­gins stream­ing on Ama­zon on Fri­day.

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