This unique drama about an addled Iraq war vet grips and confuses but proves endlessly imaginative
What is it? A US anti-hero spy drama like no other.
Why youll love it: Because you want a palate cleanser to wash away all the dour procedural TV torment of late. And you would rather have the hell beautifully confused out of you for an hour in preference to the heavy-handed plot signposting that goes on in the thick-as-pilchards TV drama so prevalent since Downton Abbey.
New Zealand newcomer Michael Dorman plays John Tavener (AKA John Lakeman), a thirtysomething Iraq war vet and intelligence operative stationed in Amsterdam, where he has gone native, smoking weed and playing folk songs at open-mic nights. Back home in Milwaukee, his nice wife waits for him, his intelligence chief dad (Terry OQuinn brilliant) pulls strings at the State Department and his congressman brother, Edward, (Orange is the New Blacks Michael Chernus) provides offbeat comic relief with his complicated home life and own espionage dabblings.
The family business is not dissimilar to Sherlock, but there the similarity ends. What I find myself loving about Patriot is its lack of resemblance to anything else Ive seen, in tone at least. Writer/director Steve Conrad takes a Homeland-y set-up involving the USs attempts to curtail Irans growing nuclear capability in 2012, and twirls it into a hyperreal fable spun from the PTSD-addled brain of a strange, unknowable man. And it looks so incredibly beautiful. And its really funny.
John must go undercover at an oil pipeline company in order to travel undetected between Iran and Luxembourg, doing his spy stuff. He gets the job done, but his methods are often surprising.
Its part workplace comedy John struggles to gain favour with irascible oil boss Leslie (Kurtwood Smith) and make nice with his co-workers and part thriller, following his first trip to Luxembourg to hand over a bag of money, where he inadvertently murders an airport worker. Detective Agathe Albans (Aliette Opheim) joins the story as the Luxembourg cop investigating the death. Will her investigation jeopardise Johns unlikely mission? Is any of this even plausible? Im too caught up in the endlessly imaginative storytelling to care.
So often with a new series, the opening is key and this one is strong. Comically glib brutality is followed by the opening titles set to the gossamer beauty of Vashti Bunyans Train Song. Its an appropriate motif: you have to get on the train and keep riding no matter how odd it gets.
Its deliberately, strangely picturesque then suddenly bathetic, playing with the natural rhythms of both comedy and drama. John looks up to the sunlit sky to see a murmuration of birds and falls off his bike on to the cobbles. Thats the whole show right there.
Episode two audaciously begins with a character we havent previously met, trying to sell his battered kayak to a stranger. We follow his story for a while and then return to him much later, paddling the beleaguered vessel from Brussels to Luxembourg. Hes heading for the plot were following, but hes not there yet.
Whether John really can avert nuclear armament in Iran quickly becomes unimportant as youre swept into the current of his nutty river. No one could blame you if youre still standing on the banks, tutting. But those who go with the flow are in for a fun ride.
Patriots already got its own hashtag #WhoIsJohnLakeman. Give it a try. Its not like other television and the better for it.
Where: Amazon Prime.
Length: 10 one-hour episodes, all available now.
Stand-out episode: The pilot, for setting a unique tone that manages to grip and confuse but never to alienate.
If you liked Patriot, watch: Fargo (Netflix) for that odd, off-beat tone.