I’m not a big fan of military or spy thrillers. I like some OK, especially if they incorporate comedy or psychological aspects into them, but in general, they’re not really my cup of tea. So when I saw just a bit about CONDOR, a new drama on the Audience Network for AT&T and DirecTV subscribers, I can’t say I was all that enticed by it
As I sat down to watch the show, it started out as a series that backed up my negative impression. There’s a murder in the desert, followed by the introduction of a strong, somewhat silent, lonely, muscular leading man. It begins to look like a bunch of other shows that did fine during their runs, but weren’t all that gripping, in my opinion.
But as the first hour unfolded, slowly CONDOR began to get under my skin. Joe Turner (Max Irons, The White Queen), despite looking like a boring leading man and being frustratingly unforthcoming with a girl he’s interested in, has layers. He struggles with morality and the part he plays in a deadly program based on predictive models, not evidence. He’s at odds with the CIA, who use his work. While parts of him are very formulaic, there’s also a charisma about him that is compelling.
Then the supporting cast took shape. Kristoffer Polaha (Life Unexpected) as Joe’s friend Sam Barber? Yes, please! Kristen Hager (Being Human) as Sam’s feisty wife, Mae? Even better. Brendan Fraser (The Mummy), who hasn’t been seen in a long time, as a bad guy? All right, I’m on board. Bob Balaban (Capote, The Monuments Men) and William Hurt (Humans, Avengers: Infinity War)? Now we’ve got some gravitas going on.
At last, the story begins picking up. I’m not saying it should have jumped into the action sooner; no, CONDOR does a terrific job of slowly unspooling things you need to know before it gets intense. Early parts of the episode are interesting, but much more so as the later scenes unfold. By the time we reach the climax of the pilot, I’m already very into it, and as the closing credits roll, I’m disappointed to find I don’t have a second episode.
What is it about CONDOR that makes it worth watching? Well, it certainly poses some big questions that are worth asking and evade easy answers. If you suspected, without a shred of proof, that someone would hurt lots of people, should you take them out? Are a few mistakes of this nature worth it when balanced against the tens of thousands or more you might save when you get the right person? This is definitely relevant today, as it has been throughout human history, and will be for the foreseeable future. Only now, we actually have to look at such a question in more than a hypothetical manner.
It also just feels authentic. From the beautiful DC setting, to the dynamics of the characters, to the subtlety present in almost every scene, there’s a real, fully-formed element to the production. It’s well acted, well written, and the pacing is perfect. I really didn’t find much to nitpick, other than where it falls into stereotypes, which thankfully it doesn’t do too often.
I don’t want to gush too much. It hasn’t cracked my Top 10 list of must-see shows, and it’s hard to imagine how CONDOR could sustain and repeat the shock value of its pilot. But there are some very strong pieces making up the whole, and it’s an excellent first episode, so I would recommend watching it.
CONDOR airs Wednesday evenings on Audience Network, and the pilot can currently be viewed for free on the network’s website.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.