Capitalism is an inescapable hell, one that has been turned into digestible television meant to gain more subscribers. Some of the best shows in recent years have used our money-driven, work-obsessed culture with our relentless pursuit of “the American Dream” to illustrate just how far someone will go for their goals.
Prime Video’s The Consultant (★★☆☆☆) falls in line with this era of TV dramas, trying to go a step above the rest to craft something worthwhile, but whether it achieves any of this is a different story.
Created by Tony Basgallop, who previously helmed the Apple TV+ series Servant alongside M. Night Shyamalan, the dark thriller (which alleges it is also a comedy) stars Christoph Waltz as Regus Patoff, a sociopathic consultant who takes over Comp Ware, a successful mobile game company, after the CEO is killed by a “devil-possessed” kid obsessed with the company’s games.
Quickly forced to abide by Patoff’s strange and demanding requests, the Comp Ware employees, unable to afford to quit, suffer through Patoff’s quirks and increasingly strange demands. Among those is Elaine Hayman (Brittany O’Grady), a former assistant who becomes a liaison for Patoff and the disgruntled employees and Craig Horne (Nat Wolff), a coder dealing with relationship problems at home, who becomes a target of his new boss.
In the chaos following their boss’s murder, Elaine and Craig wonder just exactly how Patoff came to power, setting them down a dark rabbit hole to discover what’s really going on. Soon, Patoff becomes entangled in their lives, with questions and strange occurrences piling up. Kidnapping amputee victims, gold human bones, and elephants all show up during the season.
The Consultant tries to set itself up as a mystery, thriller, black comedy, and social commentary vehicle. But it never really goes anywhere. The lack of followthrough wears thin on the viewer by the end, with many strange tidbits proving useless despite how the episodes set things up.
Seemingly important moments are left hanging and thrown out in favor of some eccentric plot that rarely works. The show sacrifices coherent plotting for flashy scenes of violence or Waltz’s insanity. Though amusing at first, these instances grow annoyingly predictable by the end. While some shows can get away with not providing answers, The Consultant is not one of them, with most questions left unanswered.
Despite being labeled as a dark comedy, there is no humor to be found, often mistaking absurdity and cruelty for any semblance of a joke. The series has also been labeled as a social commentary, which it clearly attempts to do, but rarely succeeds at.
While some moments of commentary work, like showing the lengths people will go to for their job, they are often so far-fetched or fleeting that they do not land. The Consultant makes grand strokes on the topics it deems worthy to tackle, including video game violence in the most cliche way possible, and “selling your soul to the devil,” an idea it dances around all season, but never nails.
The fundamental plot of the show feels rushed and not thought out, which ends up hurting its quality. Waltz is an amazing actor, but his character is written like an impenetrable wall, completely inaccessible to the viewer, which makes his performance suffer. O’Grady and Wolff are fantastic leads, but cannot salvage the insane story to really excel.
The actors are tugged back and forth by the eclectic narrative, which usually renders their actions confusing or out of character. Wolff once again proves he’s an amazing leading man, but contradicts himself in the show’s religious parables, which come on thick, despite little meaning.
It’s clear that The Consultant would have benefitted by putting the same effort it put into its design as the story. Aesthetically, the show has some amazing pieces, with the main game studio looking straight out of an art gallery, although everything outside those walls winds up looking the same.
The music is intense, but never really connects to the show uniquely. And while glimpses of the episodes work fantastic together, time and time again, something is off. Whether it be the pacing, the character’s actions, or frankly, what the hell is going on, something is always off.
By the end of the first season of The Consultant, a lot of comparisons can be made to shows like Severance or Black Mirror, but without the spark that made those shows great. Never picking a lane, The Consultant tries to do it all, which makes it end up doing relatively nothing at all. After the final credits roll, everything feels dissatisfying, which isn’t something you want after watching a mystery.
All 8 episodes of The Consultant are streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video. Visit www.amazon.com.
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