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TV Review : DEPARTURE

TV Review : DEPARTURE

Jerome Wetzel
DEPARTURE -- Episode 104 -- Pictured: (l-r) Christopher Plummer as Howard Lawson, Claire Forlani as Janet Freeh, Kris Holden-Ried as Dominic Hayes, Archie Panjabi as Kendra Malley -- (Photo by: Shaftesbury/Greenpoint Productions/Peacock)

The British-Canadian drama DEPARTURE is coming to Peacock’s streaming service on September 17th. The six-episode drama, which previously aired in other countries last year, follows the investigation into an airplane that disappeared over the ocean. What took it down and why are just a couple of the questions the team must answer as they try to figure out what happened so that it cannot happen again.

The cast is excellent, led by Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife) and Christopher Plummer (Lord of the Rings, Beginners). They really sell the story of DEPARTURE, and there are many wonderful moments of acting in it.

Panjabi plays Kendra Malley in DEPARTURE, a brilliant investigator who sidelined herself after a car accident claimed the life of her husband. While she has been staying home and trying to help stepson, AJ (Alexandre Bourgeois, Demain Des Hommes), try to cope, it’s clear the two haven’t exactly bonded, quite possibly because of Kendra’s lack of communication. So that could be why she accepts her mentor, Howard Lawson’s (Plummer), offer to take a high-profile case.

Not everyone is happy to see Kendra back at work, least of all Dom (Kris Holden-Ried, The Umbrella Academy), who would be leading things if she stayed home. But the entire team, including Levi Hall (Peter Mensah, Midnight, Texas), Nadia (Tamara Duarte, Wyonna Earp), and MI-5 ‘spy’ Janet Friel (Clarie Forlani, Camelot), are happy to help unlock the mystery and find the truth.

They have quite a few leads to go on, most notably involving Madelyn Strong (Rebecca Liddiard, Frankie Drake Mysteries), a passenger on the plane. Her fiancé, Ali (Shazad Latif, Star Trek: Discovery), is an early suspect. Then there’s Pavel Bartok (Sasha Roiz, Grimm), an executive who might have evil intentions. But this is not an easily-explained event, and there are sure to be more than a few twists and turns along the way if the two hours I viewed are any indication.

Despite all of the above being so promising, DEPARTURE isn’t all that great. It spends far too much time in the beginning on the airplane, which is the most spacious and luxurious aircraft I’ve ever seen, with wide aisles and lots of leg room. Besides the ridiculousness of the design in terms of realism to modern flyers, the lack of notable, recognizable performers on the craft make it feel like a slow start of a low-budget production. Immediately, Lost and its less-successful wannabe copycats spring to mind, and DEPARTURE is never going to live up to that comparison, so it’s not exactly a good start.

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Much of the rest of the drama backs that up. Great actors are wasted on DEPARTURE’s mediocre story, which feels a lot like any British or Canadian crime drama, though less believable than most. Some twists are obvious from a mile away and the writing feels formulaic. The opening scenes waste what could be a cool aircraft element, and lackluster special effects fail to deliver on the visual expectations. Panjabi, Plummer, and the rest are much better than the material they’re given, so despite them elevating the level of writing, it just doesn’t ever rise to something that needs to be viewed in its entirety. Which is saying something, given what a small commitment it would be to finish the season.

This is extremely disappointing. Yes, right now American networks are running out of fresh programming to fill their airwaves and streams because of the pandemic. And lots of them are borrowing from foreign productions to fill that gap, which is overall a positive, as Americans really should watch more non-American television. But DEPARTURE is just not that good, and it’s hard to believe Peacock couldn’t do better than this.

DEPARTURE begins streaming on Peacock Thursday, September 17th.

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