At the end of “Jerry McGuire,” after an impassioned speech begging for forgiveness, apologising for succumbing to hubris and renewed commitment for love, the eponymous character played by Tom Cruise stands and waits for a response from Renée Zellweger’s . Dorothy Boyd. It’s one of the classic pieces of dialogue in perhaps the last twenty years; “you had me at ‘Hello’.” Watching the latest Amazon Original Comedy Series “Patriot” from Steven Conrad (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, “The Weather Man”), which is also produced by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (“Crazy Stupid Love”, “Focus” and “Bad Santa”) I expereienced not one but two ‘had me at’ moments.
Tom Tavner (Terry O’Quinn - “Lost”), John's State Department Director of Intelligence father, is trying to get his operative son John (Australian newcomer Michael Dorman “Wonderland”) a new assignment BUT he confesses that he’s a little worried about his state of mind. He sites a mission that went sour and that his son has an outlet as a folk singer, whose very truthful lyrics are proving to be problematic if audiences hear them. Cue a cut to our downtrodden leading man on a park bench in exile in Amsterdam, singing a melancholy folk song, whose lyrics specifically outline every failure of the previous mission. “Patriot,” had me at this tune. The other is John’s reaction to potentially failing a job interview that he must secure to get the job.
With a central family trio of a father in an influential position in the State Department, a son as an operative and John's older brother Edward Tavner (Michael Chernus - “Orange is the New Black”), a young Texas congressman this nepotistic power-broking family shares a lot of influence.
John feels like the person with the capability to execute the job well, who has been thrown into situation after situation that has diminished his resolve. He lives that Han Solo moment in “Empire” where he attempts to use the hyper drive and when it fails miserably he can barely do anything except implore the crew around him that it’s not his fault. Throwing job competitors in front of traffic, soliciting urine samples from fellow staff members with the truth of his undercover profession and then giving them a minor stab wound when they attempt to ‘help’ you with a mission.
In order for the audience to stay with this satirical farce Conrad hinges the story’s already thin level of plausibility on the father. The great thing about Tom is that for the entire episode he feels like he knows what’s best, and how to correct the issue but he continues to place his son(s) into varying situations that look they’re about to cause an international incident.
Edward Tavner (Chernus) is such a fantastic foil to the seriousness of the situation. Every time that it makes sense for his father to send someone in to help clean-up whatever mess HIS operative son has gotten into, you are desperate FOR the clean up crew from “John Wick” or a fixer like George Clooney’s “Michael Clayton”; instead his bumbling senator brother is there to lend a ’it’s going to be all right.’ In the first episode alone, we see that a child he’s caring for as part of a charitable mentoring program gets dropped to his grandmothers place, told about “Mary Poppins” and then when granny takes a nap he makes his way to the roof with an umbrella.
“Patriot” feels like a close relation to the dark hilarity of the Coen Brothers. It takes the narrative agency of “Fargo,” the outrageousness of “Burn After Reading” and the musical interludes of “Inside Llewyn Davis.” It’s messy, blundering American espionage and foreign manipulation that makes you laugh, instead of the kind we’re witnessing in the news day to day. It’s one that makes me want to find a spot in an already stacked rotation of content.
Full series review coming at the conclusion of the series.
Patriot premiered on Amazon Prime Video on May 5, 2017. Customers who are not already Amazon Prime Video members can sign up for a free 7-day trial at PrimeVideo.com.