The Folk Singer Spy (Series Review: “Patriot”)

patriotPOSTERCan an exhausted Intelligence agent suffering from PTSD, with a penchant for penning confessional song lyrics containing classified top secret info, stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons? There’s a song here somewhere.


SnapShot Plot

Joining the ranks of other Amazon pilots which have been turned into successful series, including Transparent, Bosch, The Man in the High Castle, and Sneaky Pete, comes Patriot, a quirky and soulful take on the genre that’s come to be known as Intelligence Satire. Think Dr. Strangelove, Wag the Dog, Catch-22, et al.

New Zealand born and Australian raised actor, Michael Dorman (best known for Australian television’s Wonderland) is front and center as John Tavner, an Intelligence operative who specializes in N.O.C. (non-official cover) but whose psyche has been bruised by some recent pitfalls on the job. His therapy? Folk songs. His Achilles Heel? The lyrics. John’s guitar goes with him everywhere and in the midst of high-stakes dangerous missions, he’ll park himself on a city bench or wander into an open mic night at a local bar and start playing one confessional song after another, the words of which recount with alarming detail the secret mission in which he’s involved. His father, who happens to be Head of Ops for a secret government agency, is deliciously played by the always intriguing Terry O’Quinn (best known from ABC TV’s mysterious series, Lost) But before Dad sends John back out into the field, he assigns his other son Ed, a U.S. Congressman, to keep an eye out for him just in case he gets into trouble. It makes for an oddball espionage and family comedy that’s sufficiently dark and violent to be an unsettling and entertaining vehicle for a weekend marathon.



Parting Shot

Created by Gil Bellows (who’s got a supporting part in the series) and writer/director Steven Conrad, Patriot is just unique enough to be forgiven its flaws, much of which have to do with the problem of tone. It’s that delicate, razor’s edge balance between sudden, shocking violence and deadpan hilarity that’s the toughest challenge in this kind of show. Series (and films) such as Fargo come to mind as a successful if disturbing marriage of the two. In Patriot, one can overcome the bumps in the road for the phenomenal casting, the alluring visual backdrops, and the songs of course. Rarely have there been shows in which the backstory is sung in  ballad style, forcing the audience to listen carefully to understand what’s going on. Fans of CBS’s hilarious and dark political comedy/horror series, Brain Dead (also a member of the Intelligence Satire genre) will know what I mean.

You may be repelled by how violent this series can be, but the pay-off is in a unique take on an interesting genre that (given the subject matter) is ironically quite relevant in the current world of global politics and diplomacy.

Patriot has been renewed for a second season, and the first is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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YouTube Trailer:

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