AMC isn’t making any mistakes. The network, which specialized in syndicating films for so long, began crafting brilliant original dramas a few years ago, when it launched the masthead show Mad Men in 2007 and Breaking Bad early the following year. Both shows are critical darlings; Mad Men even won two Best Drama Emmys in a row. But since then, AMC hasn’t debuted a new piece of original programming other than last year’s miniseries The Prisoner (which received mixed reviews — I loved it). Now, AMC is back and ready to release a second batch of original programming. The Walking Dead will be hitting in October, but on Sunday we’ll be getting the premiere of Rubicon.
By this point, many of you have seen the first hour of Rubicon. It’s available on iTunes (for free!), and was aired after the season finale of Breaking Bad as a sort of sneak preview. Most have loved the series, and many have heralded it as the next LOST — a title that, unfortunately, spelled the overhype and eventual downfall of shows like FlashForward. In truth, Rubicon is really nothing like LOST — the only thing they have in common is headiness.
The show is a conspiracy thriller that’s earlier premiere might place it in the running over NBC’s similarly-themed The Event. The interesting thing about the first hour of the series is that we don’t really know what the conspiracy is — only that our protagonist, Will Travers (brilliantly played by The Pacific‘s James Badge Dale) is working against it. He doesn’t even know what he’s fighting. We only get glimpses intriguing enough to catch and hold our attention.
Rubicon has its own clear tone. While Mad Men is portrayed through either a rose-tinted lens (or, more recently, bright lighting), Rubicon seems to have an almost dingy fixation on the color brown. The film has clearly been so desaturated that it feels like an almost sepia photograph. Sure, there’s color; occasional skyline shots include splashes of blue and pink on the horizon — however, those only appear in offset to the gray-brown of the rest of the world.
Characterization is, for a first hour, very interesting. Dale’s Travers is portrayed as tortured by the death of his wife and daughter during the September 11 attacks. The event is sort of offhandedly addressed in an expository dialogue by one of the characters, but I’m interested to know if that will be fleshed out any more. If 9/11 is linked to this conspiracy that Travers is fighting, it would be a very ballsy move to put the show on the map — but also one that will garner a lot of controversy. I don’t know which I would like more: to see the conspiracy hit closer to home for Travers with 9/11, or to have that backstory stay a backstory that is rarely mentioned, but still adds depth. Looks like a win-win to me either way.
The same of characterization goes for peripheral characters. Toward the end of the episode, Travers meets a security guard. The guard, who could have just as easily been some grunt with no personality, is actually rather flamboyant, with a polka-dot bow tie. One rule of characterization is to make every character worthy of their own series. And with Rubicon, for the most part, that is accomplished. Unfortunately, some of the main cast is left by the wayside, and there’s a lot of almost criminal underdevelopment.
Will Rubicon live up to the high calibre of Mad Men and Breaking Bad? While it’s really an enjoyable show, I can’t see Rubicon following in the footsteps of its Emmy-winning predecessors. I still love it, though. And I want to see more. B+