Gideon Raff, the Israeli-born creator of “Homeland” and its Israeli predecessor “Prisoners of War,” is back Tuesday night on US small screens with the premiere of his drama-thriller “Tyrant.”
The program, which was filmed in Israel over the past few months, aired on the FX network starting at 10 p.m. EST. It was developed by Howard Gordon (who also worked with Raff on Homeland) and Craig Wright and stars Adam Rayner, Jennifer Finegan, Ashraf Barhom, Justin Kirk and Israeli actress Moran Atias. The pilot for “Tyrant” was filmed in Morocco, but the entirety of its remaining first season was shot in Tel Aviv and Kfar Saba.
“Tyrant” feels a bit like art imitating life: Its plot follows an American with roots in a fictional but highly Syria-esque country who must choose between his comfortable suburban family life and the legacy of tyranny and dictatorship that his family has destined him to.
Basaam Al-Fayed, played by Rayner, left behind his homeland of Abbudin, a nation that Raff says he modeled after pre-Arab Spring Iraq and Iran, to recreate himself as a doctor named Barry in Pasadena, California. When he turns home for a wedding and his father suddenly dies, Barry’s brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom) lays the pressure on thick to try and get him to stick around and help run things.
Barry’s wife Molly (Jennifer Finegan) and two teenaged kids Emma (Anne Winters) and Sammy (Noah Silver) know next to nothing about Barry’s family legacy or his home nation’s history of oppression and bloodlust. But while there are serious moral and ethical decisions to be made, there are also glimmering palaces and the ever-seductive lure of ancestral roots. Hence, the action begins.
Early reviews for “Tyrant” have been mixed, with The New York Times writing, “Tyrant is well made and enjoyable, but the fish-out-of water subplot is the show’s weak spot.”
For Raff, who is practically a national hero in Israel after bringing not one but two major American programs to be shot on its soil this summer (“DIG,” a separate thriller destined for NBC, is currently being filmed in Jerusalem), expectations are high. “Homeland” is one of the greatest thrillers of modern television, and fans will no doubt be anticipating something of equal caliber. Whether “Tyrant” can hold its own in an increasingly crowded television marketplace remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: Thanks to Raff, Israel has earned a spot as a prime shooting location for U.S. television.