In Praise of FX’s The Old Man

Posted by Greg on Jul 7, 2022 in Music |

Despite the ever-burgeoning popularity of narrative-based TV series and the endless streaming platforms that broadcast them, this analog writer refuses to fall for most of them. There’s something about a limited episode mini-series or a a two-hour movie that seems infinitely more rewarding than the 16+ hours or more time investment it takes to stay on top of series-based shows.

To date the number of series-based shows this writer has watched are few and far between and all of them are part of most TV packages. Streaming shows, well, this writer sticks to mostly comedies. For dramas, well there’s a few. Those select few that spring to mind most immediately are NBC’s Providence (sad but true), FOX’s Prison Break (first two seasons were pure magic), FOX’S House (first three seasons were tremendous), ABC’s The Good Doctor (all hail Freddie Highmore), NBC’s This is Us (#PearsonsForever), NBC’s New Amsterdam (#InMaxWeTrust), HBO’s K Street (so underrated), AMC’s Mad Man (the creme de le creme) and now FX’s The Old Man. The latter is the focus of this daily missive.

Anchored by first-rate performances from Jeff Daniels and John Lithgow The Old Man is ostensibly a cat-and-mouse spy thriller that vacillates between present day and the Russian-Afghan War. Based on the book by Thomas Perry, the series revolves around Dan Chase (Jeff Bridges), a former FBI agent who has lived a quiet isolated life in a small town upstate New York for more than 30 years. But when that small town life gets threatened, Chase begins a life on the run. The man chasing him is FBI Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Harold Harper (John Lithgow), a former colleague of Chase’s who knows his history, his tenacity but is still unsure of his motivations. And that’s where the story gets interesting and where the other main characters are introduced.

Once on the run Chase finds refuge in a small Pennsylvania town where he befriends his landlord Zoe McDonald, a divorcee (Amy Brenneman) who has a guarded interest in him. They begin a romance that ends abruptly when Chase skirts town yet again, this time with Zoe in tow. In addition to Harper being on his tail so too is Ray Waters (EJ Bonilla), a CIA operative armed with a relentless barrage of questions. Then there’s Angela Adams, (Alia Shawkat) an FBI protege of Harper who seems to have a keen interest in Chase’s movements.

Oh and then there’s the backstory.

In a series of flashbacks we learn that Chase is actually Johnny Kohler (Bill Heck) and quickly learn of his messy entanglement in the lives of an Afghan warlord named Hamzad (Pej Vahdat) and his alluring wife Belour Daadfar (Leem Lubarry and Hiam Abbass). Against CIA orders, Chase works to help the Afghans in their fight against Russia. And while the gesture is noble the tinderbox it creates is what keeps one wanting more long after the final frame.

As previously stated the work of Bridges and Lithgow alone is worth the investment of time but the nuanced performances by Brenneman, Shawkat and Bonilla are the ones that linger long past the end credits. While the multi-layered script by series creators Robert Levine and Jonathan E. Sternberg is taut it’s the character development and interplay that packs the biggest punch.

We’re only four episodes in but we are already hooked. Episode five airs tonight at 10 on FX. There are two more episodes left in this current season. Last month FX renewed the series for a second season and that’s somewhat comforting. While we probably would have preferred The Old Man in a limited series format we’re not too proud to not pay attention to season two. Here’s hoping it lives up to first Aston.

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