New FX series 'Tyrant' examines family ties

The Fresno BeeJune 23, 2014 

PASADENA — Gideon Raff didn't have to look too far to find the premise for his new FX series "Tyrant." Inspiration for this dark and politically twisted tale came from a television news report on Tel Aviv TV about Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria, killing dozens of people in Daraa.

"Everybody was hating on him and saying how horrible he is and a mass killer and he has to go and we have to replace him. And I was thinking that just a few years earlier, everybody was so happy that he, educated in the West, married to a British woman, is coming to replace his father," Raff says.

"I thought he probably misses his life in London now very much. And I thought how do you go from being that to being hailed a mass killer, and that journey was really, really interesting to me."

It was so interesting that Raff — creator of the Israeli drama "Prisoners of War" that became the Showtime series "Homeland" — wrote a script about the son of a Middle Eastern ruler who returns home after a self-imposed 20-year exile to face the reality of the country he left behind.

Adam Rayner plays Bassam "Barry" Al-Fayeed, the second son of a dictator, who agrees to return — with his family — to his homeland for his nephew's wedding. His return puts him in the middle of a country that has been torn apart during the rule of his father. His instincts are to return to the United States as soon as possible but those plans are blocked.

As the series unfolds, the question becomes who is the real tyrant.

It's Al-Fayeed's family who provide the outsider's perspective on the country and how being there affects their father. They are initially dazzled by the extravagance of this new world, but eventually they must face the horrors that lurk in every corner of the palace.

Raff has written the mythical country of Baladi (Arabic for "my country") as a place of seduction because of all the wish fulfillment that comes with staggering amounts of wealth and power.

"It's almost a fairy tale. You're coming to a palace and to wealth that you can't even imagine. Behind all of that are some very, very dark things, and together with these characters, we're going to find out what it is, and we're going to have to make the decisions, you know, the hard decisions that these leaders have to make," Raff says.

Executive producer Howard Gordon describes the challenge of making the series as finding the line between acceptable wish fulfillment and the characters being willfully naive about the realities of what is going on around them.

"I think Barry Al-Fayeed is a guy who recognizes sort of the price of admission not just to this country but to the destiny of being an Al-Fayeed, and he so desperately wanted to be a good man that he turned his back on it and replanted himself in America," Gordon says. "This is really a family drama against this very tough political situation in which this family and its ability to hold onto itself and, again, through Barry's eyes, his acceptance of his frankly, I hate to use the word 'destiny,' but that's what it is as he comes to accept his destiny that he can perhaps naively navigate this parallel situation.

"Helping his brother navigate the situation really becomes the cornerstone of what happens."

Show info

"Tyrant," 10 p.m. June 24, FX

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at

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