Fans of the hit AMC shows “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” have become aware that a third show is joining the elite ranks. This is all thanks to AMC’s annoying, seemingly endless advertisement of the new show, with the ads boasting that the show is critically-acclaimed already and people should see it.
It’s a shame that after all that buildup, “Rubicon” is so dull.
Perhaps AMC has gotten a bit cocky. Those first two shows are amazing, with excellent writing, performances and, in the case of “Mad Men,” costuming and set design.
The main problem with “Rubicon” is it never attempts to define its terms. In fact, it seems to go to great pains to keep the audience bizarrely out of the loop. Throughout the pilot, we are given allusions to all this stuff that has happened before the pilot, with little to no detail. That’s not to say that detail is needed — especially in the pilot of a full, episodic television show — but a working knowledge in order to, you know, understand what is going on is nice.
It also does not help that the show’s character is what some might call pretentious and others might call obnoxious. About 10 minutes into the show’s pilot, this reviewer said to the TV, “This reminds me of ‘House,’ and I do not like that.”
What that means is the main protagonist of “Rubicon,” Will Travers (James Badge Dale), is as annoyingly intelligent and perfect as Dr. Gregory House. Will is not as cocksure and sarcastic as Dr. House is on his worst days, but the foggy, aimless performance that Dale gives the character is, to put it mildly, boring. Granted, “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” are slower paced than other television shows, but I’ve never seen a person take longer walking down a hallway — all while trying to look somehow introspective and reverent — than Will did in this pilot. (Plus, not to sound heartless, but just saying “9/11” to explain away the deaths of Will’s family is sorely lacking in the story department. Please explain who these people were, at least in the future episodes.)
While “Rubicon” does not have the repetitive, episodic nature of “House,” this is replaced by a cluster of a whodunit that, again, is never adequately explained. Two people die in the pilot. One of them dies in the first five minutes, without any explanation. It’s impossible for viewers to care about this death because viewers do not know who this person is.
Roughly halfway through the pilot, yet another person dies. “Rubicon” flails at giving this man personality by placing him close to Will and giving him a scatterbrained character trait (extreme superstitiousness). This proves to be extremely convenient to the plot by providing plenty of clues. (He would never park in space No. 13!!!)
Speaking of convenient to the plot, the entire story of the pilot — and the beginning of the apparently season-long mystery — is preceded by someone asking Will one specific clue in a crossword. What are the odds? Out of this one specific clue in this crossword that someone just so happens to ask Will about comes this entire unraveling that sets the major plot points in motion.
As Will asks more and more questions about a potential conspiracy, he starts to look and sound more and more like Jim Carrey from “The Number 23,” which is about the absolute worst comparison “Rubicon” could hope to draw. And at the end of the day, while “Rubicon” is not as incomprehensible and unintentionally hilarious as “The Number 23” is, “Rubicon” is just flat-out dull. At least “The Number 23” is morbidly enjoyable.
As much as “Rubicon” might have disappointed, AMC’s new show for the fall, “The Walking Dead,” based on the Image comic series of the same name, should absolutely live up to the hype if the adaptation is done well. And there’s always a new season of “Mad Men” to tide us over until then.