A new U.S. series loosely described as “The Godfather set in the Middle East” premiered on TV channel FX this week, drawing complaints from some critics that the region was poorly represented.
“In the pilot of FX’s ‘Tyrant,’ Arab Muslim culture is devoid of any redeeming qualities and is represented by terrorists, murderous children, rapists, corrupt billionaires and powerless female victims,” said CAIR’s national communications director, Ibrahim Hooper, according to the Washington Post. “In ‘Tyrant,’ even the ‘good’ Arab Muslims are bad.”
Although critics have expressed doubt that the events of the Middle East represented in the new show “Tyrant” will appeal to a U.S. cable audience, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf was willing to take the risk.
“When somebody comes along with something that feels different and even potentially undoable, that’s when we start to get interested,” said Landgraf, “because the high-degree-of-difficulty dives are the ones that score the best if you can break the plane of the water the right way, ”he told The Hollywood Reporter.
The series was entirely shot in Israel and tells the story of Bassam al-Fayeed (played by actor Adam Rayner), the second son of the dictator of the fictional Middle Eastern country of Baladi.
Sent into self-imposed exile, Bassam al-Fayeed is married to the American Molly and has two teenage children.
The plot explores his life and his first visit to his homeland in more than 20 years, making for some potentially sensitive viewing.
Producers initially expressed concern that the Arab drama could spark backlash as it was filmed entirely in Israel.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Israel was initially avoided for fear of backlash that could come with having a Jewish state standing in for an Arab one, but ultimately the execs decided on Israel as it had run out of options.”
The hourlong political family drama from Homeland producers Gideon Raff and Howard Gordon cost more than $3 million per episode, according to sources close to the show who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter.
Leading the show is blue-eyed British actor Adam Rayner, who gained the part after research by studio execs to determine that some Middle Easterners do indeed have blue eyes.
The team also hired a Palestinian filmmaker to serve as a consultant on the Israeli set. “We want to know when we’re treading in an area of sensitivity, and what I’ve learned is everything in the show we deal with treads on a level of somebody’s sensitivity,” said producer-director Michael Lehmann.