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2018 is a long way from the 1970s, time-wise, but where the global political climate and scandals in Washington D.C. are concerned, perhaps too many noteworthy similarities exist. So it makes some timely sense that Audience Network and MGM Television teamed up for Condor, a conspiratorial drama that feels ripped right out of the culture-clashing decade. And though it hits a lot of the familiar notes inherent to the subgenre, Condor is a gripping and jolt-driven thriller that isn't interested in slowing down for distracted viewers. I could use more shows like this in my life.
Condor's connection to the shady government projects of the 1970s is hardly a coincidence, since the new series is a modernization of James Grady's 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor, which was adapted into the acclaimed 1975 film Three Days of the Condor, directed by Sydney Pollack. The TV show obviously has a lot more story ground to cover than either a feature or a novel, and it's overall success will inevitably rely in how well showrunners Todd Katzburg and Jason Smilovic are able to keep viewers interested in the high-stakes action and duplicitous character twists that kick things off.
In the early episodes, I can say that it's indeed the action and story pacing that serve as Condor's greatest strengths, as it takes some work to warm up to the consistently impressive ensemble cast setting it all in motion. Front and center for Condor is Max Irons, son of the always great Jeremy Irons, as CIA analyst Joe Turner, a smart and often self-centered guy whose gets unwittingly pulled into a massive behind-the-curtain terrorist plot that not only puts millions of lives at risk, but also has origins within the government itself. And once it becomes lethally clear that the "bad guys" will stop at nothing to get to Joe and his prized information, trust becomes a luxury Joe can no longer afford. Especially when he gets publicly scapegoated for some very heinous crimes.
Unfortunately, Joe Turner himself is probably the weakest element of Condor on the whole, beyond the "been here before" aspect. He's not all that interesting, despite Irons' fine-enough performance, and it's hard to pin down exactly what his strengths are. In one moment, he'll be downplaying his talents by saying he's only an analyst, and in the next moment, it's like he's late-stage Jack Ryan with all the necessary skills required for whatever job is at hand. And then at other times, he appears to be unable to keep his thoughts straight for five minutes at a time. I can't say I'd do any better in his position, but then I'm not a TV character.
Luckily, Joe does have a few good people on his side, as complicated as those relationships may be. His uncle Bob Partridge, the gruff but emotionally sound National Intelligence Officer portrayed by William Hurt, had hand-picked Joe for the terrorist-thwarting operation, along with all the other recruits, and feels responsible once things go haywire. Bob's new replacement at the head of the task force is the sure-footed Marty Frost, played with mucho gusto by Mira Sorvino. Then there's Joe's best friends Sam Barber, a field agent played by Kristoffer Polaha, and his wife Mae, played by Kirsten Hager.
On the opposite side of the moral spectrum are those who want Joe Turner captured, in whatever form that may be. The most fluid and dangerous threat is ex-Mossad agent Gabrielle Joubert, portrayed with too-mild perniciousness by Leem Lubany. Other highly questionable characters include former Special Forces op Deacon Mailer, whose imprisonment and torture as a P.O.W. severely changed his behavior and personality, and Brendan Fraser's Nathan Fowler, a mentally untethered military contractor who comes across as both genial and vile from one second to the next.
Brendan Fraser's wild eyes and mysterious aura are some of the signature elements that make Condor more interesting and engaging than a more rote broadcast network thriller would be, with Mira Sorvino being another big breath of fresh air. (Bob Balaban is also in the mix as a generic government person, but it's Balaban, so of course he's still great.) And there is a somewhat strange vein of dark humor flowing through things that isn't always perceptible, which adds to the show's more offbeat draws.
Condor's early episodes also manage to distance it from similar fare like Homeland (the most obvious current comparison) by embracing conspiracy thriller plot mechanics over having the story overtly reflect realistic international politics. While Hulu's The Looming Tower is wholly invested in that information-heavy plotting, Condor gets from Point A to Point B to Point C in quick and stimulating ways that don't require heaps of exposition. That may be unfortunate for some viewers, but considering how many moving parts Condor has, I was fine with focusing more on character dynamics than government-to-government dynamics.
All in all, Condor probably won't change the game when it comes to TV shows that warn about everything the CIA may be hiding from us, but viewers might be too busy stuck to the edges of their seats to notice. Following such fan-pleasing original series such as the Stephen King-adapted Mr. Mercedes and the messy comedy Loudermilk, Condor is more proof that Audience Network is a force to be reckoned with. And I hope this first season keeps building upon the fast-paced action that it starts off with. Good luck, Joe.