By Dave Pezza
For those of you not aware, Amazon’s pilot process encourages television writers and directors to create a pilot episode. Amazon then makes those pilots available to the public via Amazon Prime Video. Depending on the success or popularity of a pilot, Amazon either picks up a series or doesn’t.
One recently successful example is “Patriot,” a series created and set in 2015 during the Iranian presidential election, but created in its entirety over the last two years. Amazon has hit an extremely poignant tone with this show. Created and largely directed by Steven Conrad, best known for writing “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “Patriot” follows CIA agent John Tavner, played by Michael Dorman, as he attempts to buy the Iranian presidential election and stop a potentially nuclear capable Iran.
The operation, spearheaded by John’s CIA handler and father Tom Tavner, isn’t exactly on the books. Without direct approval from his superiors, Tom entrusts his son to complete the low-key mission by taking a NOC (non-official cover) position with a piping company called McMillan. McMillan is one of a handful of companies in the field that conducts business with in the country of Luxembourg, part of the few European countries to conduct business with Iran at the time. John’s mission? Over the course of the election cycle, play courier to large sums of money from the United States to Luxembourg where a contact transports the cash to pro-American parties in Iran. Simple enough, right? Not even a little.
As John finds himself waist deep in convoluted shit that has hit the fan, he leans more and more on his crutch, writing and playing folk songs truthfully based on the operations he performs for the U.S. government. With killer performances from Kurtwood Smith (Red Forman in “That 70’s Show”) and Aliette Opheim, a Swedish actress playing the role of Detective Agathe Albans who investigates Tavner’s dealings in Luxembourg, “Patriot” has much more to offer than its John le Carré-like plot. Conrad’s wit comes through in the darkest and heaviest moments, offering a Wes Anderson meets Coen brothers brand of dark, dry comedy that brings everything from chuckles to full blown laughter.
But the show’s best moments transcend plot and humor and strikes the contemporary American with questions of identity and purpose. What does it mean to be an American, to be a good worker, to make art? Can we be all or any of these things, and how does the world respond to the way we conduct ourselves in pursuit of these ideals? “Patriot” attempts these heavy questions in a medium that has your ass hovering above the cushion and your nerves pulsing second by second.