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FX

Should You Watch Tom Hardy Get Dark And Stormy (And Incestuous!) On Taboo?

He co-created and stars in this FX miniseries about a period Brit with a shady past.

What Is This Thing?

It's an eight-part miniseries set in London in 1814, when the War of 1812 was threatening the futures of both America and England. Only on this show, the biggest threat comes from the East India Company, which we're told is so powerful that it controls the government, the trade routes, and possibly our very souls. (The company was indeed a gorilla in its prime, though not quite the menace we see here.) As it looks to the future, the EIC wants to control North America, which will give it access to China as well. And for some reason, the company's entire ability to dominate the global economy rests on a tiny patch of rocky land on the North American coast that's owned by James Delaney. Surely they can offer him a nice price and get their world domination underway, right?

WRONG! See, James Delaney is a brooding weirdo who exiled himself to Africa for a while, and he's only come back home after his father's death. (His father willed him that North American land) Everyone is startled when James returns, since they thought he was dead. Plus, local gossip suggests that he became a cannibal while he was away, and there are hints about other frightful deeds as well.

But whatever his past, James is now intent on keeping that piece of land. Is it because that's the place where his father purchased his mother, a Native American? Is it because James knows there are diamonds in the soil? Is it because he wants to take his half-sister Zilpha there, so they can live in incestuous splendor? All of these motives are implied by the first two episodes, but nothing is made explicit.

Of course, the EIC doesn't care about his reasons. They just want James dead. Can one weird dude defeat their assassins while protecting his family's future fortunes?

When Is It On?

Tuesdays at 10 PM on FX. The first episode premieres on January 10. (If you live in England, though, you'll be watching on the BBC, where the series premiered January 7.)

Why Was It Made Now?

Tom Hardy is both the star and a co-creator, and he got an Oscar nomination for The Revenant last year. Since he also played Bane, I guess he's famous enough to make networks leap when he pitches a series that's also created by his dad, the awesomely named "Chips" Hardy.

What's Its Pedigree?

Along with Tom and Pop, the other co-creator is Steven Knight, who got an Oscar nomination for writing Dirty Pretty Things. Some viewers will be excited to learn that head writer Emily Ballou also penned the original Australian version of The Slap.

Meanwhile, Ridley Scott is an Executive Producer, and the cast includes Oona Chaplin as James's sister; Jonathan Pryce as the nefarious head of the EIC; and Michael Kelly (from House Of Cards) as an American insurgent living in London.

...And?

If you lived through the heyday of grunge music, then you'll remember that Pearl Jam and Nirvana were the top tier, Stone Temple Pilots were the soulless (but delicious) corporate copycats, and Seven Mary Three were the generic sludge-makers, delivering the basic ingredients of their genre without adding a single distinctive flavor. If we apply this formula to graphically violent period dramas about men with terrible secrets, then The Knick is probably up top, with Peaky Blinders in the Scott Weiland slot.

And then, way down at the bottom, we've got Taboo.

Watching the first two episodes, I could practically hear the quill pen as it checked off boxes. Does James have a massive facial scar? Yes! Does he see visions of people from his anguished past? Yep! Does his quest to protect his inherited land involve a wizened old servant who becomes his only trusted friend? A variety of scenes where he threatens prostitutes and other women with violence? A remarkable amount of f-bombs and gross surgery scenes that don't advance the story but may score points with certain dudes at home? TRIPLE YES.

But even though they have all the pieces, the first installments -- which total over 120 minutes, not including commercials -- don't know what to do with them. Among all the FX dramas I've ever watched, this one is the most inert. In the pilot, almost nothing happens. I'm not saying I need American Horror Story levels of plotting, but I just could not get invested in all the exposition about James's property holdings. My friends, there are multiple scenes where he argues with someone about the buildings he owns.

But as exhaustingly explicit as it is about contracts, the show is irritatingly vague about its characters. We keep hearing that James has a dark past, but we barely get any specifics. And it's not like Hardy's performance, which I'd describe as an unchanging look of angry constipation, gives us any insight into his humanity. Instead, we're just expected to care about this dude because the show tells us to. But so what that he's got dark secrets? So does everyone else on FX!

Because James is drawn so imprecisely, it's also underwhelming when we hear that he's going to get assassinated. It's obvious he's going to thwart the knife-wielding psychos who rush him in alleyways, since anything else would leave the show without a center, and since he doesn't seem the slightest bit human, that obvious plotting is impossible to forgive.

And speaking of obvious: the writing can be howlingly terrible. In an East India Company meeting, for instance, poor Jonathan Pryce has to deliver a lengthy speech about how members can speak without being on the record. Clearly, the character is only saying this for our benefit, since everyone on the board of the company would clearly know how the system works. But what's worse, it's obvious that WE are only being told about the "off-the-record clause" so that someone can employ it a few minutes later.

And sure enough, about halfway through the scene, a character raises his hand before he says something juicy about killing James. But by that point, his aside has been foreshadowed so heavily that it feels like the inevitable punchline of an insultingly simplistic joke. This kind of hackwork pops up over and over.

Finally, please look at the makeup job on the actor playing King George III:

FX

FX

For a show with no sense of humor, that shit is awfully funny.

...But?

I guess it's interesting that James and his half-sister have had sex before and clearly still want to bang. But even that titular taboo was already part of Game Of Thrones.

...So?

Even the best shows in this subgenre feel unnecessary to me. If I'm going to watch a straight male antihero wear dark clothes and splash around in the muck of historical Europe, then he's going to be more than angry and boring.

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