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FX’s 'Tyrant' Returns With the Family Business Still Dysfunctional
July 6, 2016  | By David Hinckley

FX’s Tyrant doesn’t try to pretend that running a Middle Eastern country would be, for most people, a coveted gig.

You could get rich. You could also get dead, which is one of the reasons Barry Al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner, below, left) doesn’t really want the job.

Unfortunately for Barry, real name Bassam, it’s the family business. His father was dictator of the fictional Abuddin, and when Barry reluctantly left his Los Angeles home to go visit the folks, he got caught up in a whirlwind of guilt trips and coups and unhappy coincidences that put him right back at the center of his homeland’s high-tension politics.

Season 3 starts Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET, and it doesn’t look like Barry’s going to be able to bolt any time soon.

One problem is that he really does want Abuddin to become a peaceful, democratic society, which we all know from real life isn’t the kind of transformation that can be ordered on Amazon.

After his father died and his ambitious brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom) began grabbing for power, Barry thought he had a solution. He would work behind the scenes to convince Jamal that the people of Abuddin needed a real voice.

Once he had done that, he could move back to L.A. with his patient wife Molly (Kate Finnigan) and the kids. He could go back to being a pediatrician in Pasadena, and she could go back to her medical practice, leaving the grateful, happy people of Abuddin behind.

That plan went just about where any sane person would have expected, which is nowhere. Jamal became so power-hungry that Barry and Jamal’s wife Leila (Moran Atias, below, right, with Barhom ) were among those who were forced to try to stop him.

Then at the end of the season, Jamal got shot, throwing everything into chaos and forcing Barry, as this season begins, to step in as the only reasonable hope for heading off civil war.

He takes this step with the same irrational optimism he displayed on his previous steps, laying out a plan he hopes will enable every angry, warring faction in Abuddin to understand, forgive and forget.

Barry may be great with kids, but he’s a little slow in picking up on the historic behavior patterns of grownups.

Still, Tyrant does not portray Barry simply as a noble idealist in a fatally flawed world. Neither he nor the people around him come off as one-dimensional.

Barry, for all his dreams, has shown himself willing to deal with bad people for what he hopes will be good ends. Resistance leaders have secret ambitions of their own, and not all for the good of the masses.

The show also deals, and not in a superficial manner, with tricky issues like the role of women in Muslim nations and the repression felt by gay people.

Perhaps most importantly, Tyrant does not suggest the Middle Eastern Muslim world exists in another galaxy from the wiser, enlightened “West.” Many of the issues that ignite passions in Abuddin have the same effect in non-Muslim nations, and many of the responses are strikingly similar.

It’s also worth noting that in the end, Tyrant isn’t a political documentary. It’s a story about a man and his family drawn into a tense and dangerous situation, and how the man decides that as long as he’s here, he might as well try to do some good.

It’s a path that inevitably leads to political drama. It also leads to some soap opera. If it only leads to humanizing the diverse Muslim characters in the cast, it has succeeded.

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