With shows like “Transparent” and “Mozart in the Jungle,” Amazon Studios has begun to step out of Netflix’s shadow and create its own respectable and original lineup. While their latest offering, “Patriot,” may be too confusing and self-absorbed to continue Amazon’s critical success, the series has enough charm to sustain its ten-episode run.
“Patriot” follows intelligence officer John Tavner as he goes undercover as an employee at a Midwestern industrial firm that is embroiled in an Iranian election crisis and nuclear arms development. If that isn’t dangerous enough, Tavner’s new identity is a “non-official cover.” In other words, his role has not been officially sanctioned by the U.S. government, so he must contend with a lack of resources as he tries, and often fails, to tiptoe through danger and scrutiny on all sides.
Though “Patriot” bears some similarity to recent espionage shows like FX’s “The Americans” or Showtime’s “Homeland,” the series veers into Coen Brothers-esque dark comedy with its juxtaposition of absurd, surreal comedy and intense violence. While there is definite merit to this dark sense of humor, “Patriot” over-relies on its quirkiness to such an extent that it overpowers much of the drama. And in its most outlandish moments, this show feels like a depressing version of “Archer” more than the type of prestige drama it seems to aspire to. Indeed, “Patriot’s” style is as problematic as it is unique.
Still, for every bit of comedy that doesn’t quite hit the mark, there are other comedic moments that go over quite well. Certain gags and characters undoubtedly keep you coming back for more.
Much of this success can be attributed to the show’s strong cast, which is made up largely of unknown or obscure actors, with “Lost” alumnus Terry O’Quinn and “That ‘70s Show’s” Kurtwood Smith as the most recognizable faces. New Zealand actor Michael Dorman stars as leading man Tavner, bringing both a strong sense of comedic timing and dramatic heft to his character. O’Quinn portrays Tavner’s father, Tom, a government executive who, while good-intentioned, also pressures his son into increasingly dangerous situations. Smith, as the uptight industrial engineer Leslie Claret, is a strong foil to Dorman’s free-spirited, almost carefree protagonist.
Like others in the spy genre, “Patriot” is bolstered by its panoramic vantage point, with locations ranging from the quaintly picturesque streets of Amsterdam and Luxembourg to the decaying industrial landscape of Milwaukee. Unfortunately, the show often moves around these locations at a whirlwind pace, making some of the action and plot specifics difficult to follow.
Overall, “Patriot” is off to a rocky, but nevertheless entertaining start. The series premiered on Feb. 24 and all ten episodes are available online on Amazon Video or with a Prime membership.