Scott D. Pierce: 'Rubicon' will require plenty of patience

Published: Wednesday, July 28 2010 3:00 p.m. MDT

James Badge Dale stars as Will Travers in the new AMC spy thriller "Rubicon."

Craig Blankenhorn, AMC

For a show that's supposed to be a spy thriller, there aren't a whole lot of thrills in "Rubicon."

This new AMC series is certainly dark and mysterious. There are plots within plots within plots, and bad stuff is happening.

But, at least through the first four episodes, we don't actually have much of a clue about what's going on. And we don't see a whole lot happening, either.

The question is whether it's intriguing enough to make viewers hang around long enough to find out. And, for most viewers, that answer is probably no.

Executive producer Henry Bromell ("Homicide: Life on the Street," "Chicago Hope," "Brotherhood") and his team weave a tangled web of mystery and suspense. And it begins with seemingly unrelated events — a suicide, a train accident, a promotion — that are ultimately related.

At least we're led to believe they are.

James Badge Dale ("The Pacific") stars as Will Travers, a brilliant analyst at the American Policy Institute in New York City. It's a government agency that has access to all of the United States' intelligence. And it's where decisions like when to launch attacks on terrorists are made.

In the "Rubicon" reality, API was formed to prevent what happened before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when different U.S. agencies had intelligence they didn't share with each other.

The biggest clue to what's going on may be right there in the title. It refers to the river in northern Italy, which Roman armies — in the days of the republic — were forbidden by the Roman Senate to cross.

"They were always afraid that the Roman army would someday take over, which is exactly what happened," Bromell said in the press materials. "And that's when the republic ended and the empire — which is a dictatorship — began."

Early in the first episode, Will's boss dies in an accident. (Or was it not an accident?) And, while he's feeling burned out and ready to move on, Will is convinced by his co-workers that he needs to stick around and take the job as their new boss.

Not to give too much away, but Will is the curious type. That's why he's good at his job.

And, despite warnings from his superiors, Will launches a secret investigation and uncovers evidence of a (cue the ominous music) sinister conspiracy.

"Rubicon" is "rooted in our love for paranoid political suspense thrills of the early 1970s," Bromell said.

It's somewhat reminiscent of movies like "The Parallex View," "All the President's Men," "The Conversation" and "Three Days of the Condor," all of which Bromell cites as inspirations for "Rubicon."

The biggest difference is that those movies were indeed movies. You got caught up in them and, a couple of hours later, you had your answer.

A couple of hours into "Rubicon," we still have no idea what's happening. Four hours in, there's still a lot more we don't know than we do know.

It's a handsome production with a fine cast. Dale is outstanding, and he is joined by Miranda Richardson, Arliss Howard, Jessica Collins, Dallas Roberts, Christopher Evan Welch and Lauren Hodges, among others.

And it's certainly intriguing. It sets a mood that we rarely see in a weekly TV series.

Whether it can sustain that mood and keep people interested is the huge task Bromell & Co. have undertaken.

Maybe too huge a task.

If you watch …

What: "Rubicon"

When: Sunday, 6, 7 and 10:03 p.m.

Channel: AMC

Two episodes: On Sunday, AMC will air the first hour of "Rubicon" at 6 p.m. (It's the same episode that was "previewed" after the season finale of "Breaking Bad" on June 13.) The second hour of "Rubicon" will air at 7 and 10:03 p.m.

e-mail: pierce@desnews.com

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