'Tin Star': TV Review

More lead than gold.
9/29/2017

Tim Roth headlines Amazon's blood-drenched drama about a family destroyed by Big Oil.

It's an indication of the industry's paucity of imagination that, in this era of Peak TV when the storytelling canvas stretches out as far as the eye can see, we're offered yet another pseudo-prestige "dad goes bad" crime drama.

On Amazon's Tin Star, Tim Roth plays the role of the father who'd do anything for his family except spend quality time with them. The Alberta-set series does introduce a few new elements to the well-worn genre, most notably the protagonist's initial failure to keep all his loved ones safe. But otherwise, it's the usual combination of financial anxieties, uncanny villains, artful splatters and middle-aged men staring dolefully at their reflections that we've come to expect from shows like Breaking Bad and Ozark.

The family at the heart of Tin Star aren't the typical suburban foursome. Roth's Jim Worth moved his wife (Genevieve O'Reilly), teenage daughter (Abigail Lawrie) and 5-year-old son (Rupert Turnbull) from London to rural Canada, where he started over as a small-town police chief after embracing sobriety. That's a lot of backstory (which the pilot hurtles to establish) for a show that scarcely cares how that relocation affects the main characters. Similarly wasted are the possible explorations of how the arrival of an evil oil-refinery firm alters the social dynamics of the town. All we get from that influx of newcomers are variously accented antagonists, including an inscrutable killer (Oliver Coopersmith) and North Stream Oil's icy head of security (Christopher Heyerdahl), a man so cold he'd make a polar bear shiver.

The Worths will seemingly find an ally in North Stream's PR rep (Christina Hendricks), but they spend the first half of the 10-episode season narrowly escaping death, over and over again. Nearly every installment made available to press contains scenes of genuine suspense, like the pre-dawn attack that forces the family to flee their home in their pajamas in the pilot. The drama boasts an austere stylishness that contrasts vividly against the lush Rockies landscape, though the dissonant soundtrack is overbearing enough that the music becomes more dread-inducing than the violence onscreen.

Aided by tipple, Jim's transmutation from Good Dad to IDGAF Dad happens fast. But Tin Star's attempts to out-bloody its predecessors backfire because the brutality is too cartoonish to take seriously. One baddie feeds another the eyeball of a murder victim to demonstrate the gravity with which his demands be taken. The second baddie is scared off, but I just rolled my eyes. Who does he think he is, a descendant of Ramsay Bolton? The more blood the series sheds, the less weight the violence seems to carry.

Perhaps Tin Star will subvert its genre enough to let the women take over. After Jim falls off the wagon, his wife and daughter decide to fend for themselves, as well as figure out how to cope with an uncertain and dangerous future. Jim's deputy (Sarah Podemski), a First Nations woman constantly educating her English boss in navigating around the town's racial pitfalls, leads the police department while he downs whiskey shots at the bar. My hopes aren't high, as none of the female characters are given much depth in the first five installments. But their struggles are still preferable to the umpteenth iteration of "Blokes Behaving Badly."

Cast: Tim Roth, Christina Hendricks, Genevieve O'Reilly
Creator: Rowan Joffe
Premieres: Friday (Amazon)

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