Barry ‘Bassam’ Al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner) reluctantly returns to the Middle East for his nephew’s wedding after a 20-year self-imposed exile. Having made a life for him in the US, Barry takes his American family with him back to his homeland determined to stay for the minimum amount of time possible. Within a matter of days Barry’s father dies and his power hungry brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom) ascends to the throne. Barry now has to choose whether to assist his brother to avoid a national political crisis or return to the US with his family leaving his past behind once again.
Tyrant is the latest show from the people behind Homeland but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is similar to that show. The only thing the two shows share are their political storylines with Tyrant a much bolder show than Homeland. Arriving at a time when unrest in the Middle East has barely been out of the headlines, Tyrant was understandably controversial when it debuted in the US but the show rode out the criticism and won a loyal fanbase.
At the centre of the show is Barry aka Bassam. The character goes on a journey of self-discovery during the first season as he faces up to his past and lets his family see what his life used to be like. Having been able to ignore the politics of his family and his homeland, Barry has to become a tougher more assertive person especially when it comes to dealing with his wayward brother Jamal. There’s also the issue of Jamal’s wife Leila (Moran Atias) who had a past relationship with Barry.
When the family first arrives in the Middle East, they are immediately taken in by the wealth and power their relatives hold. Barry’s children Sammy (Noah Silver) and Emma (Anne Winters) are swept away with the novelty of it all whilst Barry’s wife Molly (Jennifer Finnigan) is concerned about the effect being home is having on her husband.
One of the things that we really liked about Tyrant is that it is clearly a show developed to unravel its storyline over multiple seasons. There are several story strands and sub-plots that aren’t fully realised by the end of the first season leaving you desperate for the next season to arrive so you can find out more. One such storyline revolves around Barry’s son Sammy who is gay but not out to his parents. Throughout the first season his behaviour becomes increasingly reckless and homosexuality in the Middle East isn’t something that is looked upon in an accepting way. We’re looking forward to seeing how that storyline pans out.
Tyrant hinges on two powerful performances – Adam Rayner and Ashraf Barhom. Rayner really shows what he’s capable of as Barry and this is his most impressive performance to date. He makes Barry’s journey believable and he’s commanding when he’s on the screen. He’s match by Ashraf Barhom who plays Barry’s brother Jamal. Barhom brings a wide-eyed craziness to his character and he really does have you on the edge of your seat as you just have no idea what his character is going to do next.
Extras on the DVD release include a selection of deleted scenes and a featurette entitled A Family of Tyranny that gives an in-depth look at the key characters in the show.
Tyrant is a bold and at times brutal political thriller series. Don’t let the slow pace of the narrative put you off watching the show. It may take an episode or two to get into the flow of the show but once you’re in you’ll be hooked. Tyrant focuses on developing its characters and by the end of the season you have a handful of really fleshed out characters to root for or despise. The season ends on a rather large cliff-hanger and we can’t wait to see how the show develops when it returns later in the year for a second season.