Creators: Robert Levine, Jonathan E. Steinberg
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Pej Vahdat, Noor Razooky
Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow are two of our greatest living actors, so it’s exciting to see them paired as the stars of FX’s new thriller The Old Man (debuting Thursday, June 16 at 10/9c). In fact, the promise of Bridges and Lithgow sharing the screen is almost enough on its own to sell this…almost. But after watching the first four episodes, I’m not entirely convinced. The Old Man hits all the beats of a standard spy thriller and delivers heart-wrenching action, but the personal stuff fades away. It gives a meditative tone, without giving us much to ponder.
Bridges plays former CIA asset Dan Chase, who now lives a quiet life in the woods with his two big, heavy dogs. The story starts off slow and heavy, but picks up speed when Dan is attacked by a mysterious assailant. “They found me,” he tells his daughter on the phone as she packs a suitcase and goes on the run. Lithgow plays top FBI official Harold Harper, who is tasked with bringing Chase in, dusting off a case file that has been sealed for 30 years.
These two actors form a formidable cat and mouse duo, in the vein of Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive. Chase and Harper are smart and experienced, and they also have a history; the story perks up significantly when they speak. (If anything, they don’t have enough scenes together.) It’s also fun to see Bridges, who is 72, get into action hero mode here, beating up guys half his age and whipping out a sniper rifle to take down surveillance. drones However, Chase is not indestructible, and his advanced age plays a factor; in the premiere, he engages in a gruelingly long fist fight with a tough opponent that took even my breath away.
However, trying to follow the story of The Old Man is exhausting in its own way. Co-creators and writers Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine (Black Sails, See)—adapting Thomas Perry’s best-selling novel—weave a tangled tale of international intrigue that spans decades and continents, but doesn’t bother to make sense or to understand. take care of us Do you want answers? Okay, but it only leads to a dozen more questions. Background details are kept frustratingly sketchy, leaving the actors to fill in the blanks.
The dialogue is a mix of dense exposition and harsh bravado, without much humanity. It sounds great, sure, but it doesn’t ring true. The series also gets very dark at times, literally. (I had to squint to see what was happening during several key action sequences.) Flashbacks to Chase’s younger days at the CIA are supposed to give us insight into his motivations, but they’re so trite they’re almost unnecessary. I should point out that there is a big twist in Episode 3 that adds an interesting twist to the story, but it makes less sense the more you think about it.
The Old Man FX Amy Brenneman Zoe Also, as good as Bridges and Lithgow are, women are not well catered for here. Alia Shawkat doesn’t quite fit as a young, enthusiastic FBI subordinate, and Amy Brenneman is badly wasted on a poorly written character who makes a series of inexplicable decisions that involve her in an awkwardly added subplot. The Old Man seems to be aiming for something edgy and riveting like Homeland or The Americans, but it doesn’t offer the depth or nuance to take us along for the ride.