‘Patriot” is not your average spy series.
Ostensibly, it’s the saga of John Tavner (Michael Dorman), a folk-singing undercover US intelligence officer embedded with a Milwaukee-based oil pipe company. Yet the 10-episode Amazon show boasts characters named Jack Birdbath and Ichabod, a dash of slapstick humor and even a firebrand Iranian politician who, as a kid, won the “Battleship” World Championships — as in the board game.
“It was intentional to create a show that had a wide bandwidth of tone, primarily because we were asking for 10 hours of someone’s time,” says “Patriot” creator Steve Conrad (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”). “It’s a suspense piece before anything else, but there’s room to be engaging on other fronts. We tried to push the genre to see how much comedy it could take, how many songs … and make it feel like 2017.”
The series follows reluctant, world-weary John Tavner as he shuttles between Milwaukee and Luxembourg — going undercover as “John Lakeman” and tasked with delivering a bundle of cash to help sway an Iranian election in America’s favor. He works for his father, Tom Tavner (Terry O’Quinn), a high-level head of intelligence who has a warm relationship both with John and his other son, Edward (Michael Chernus), a good-natured congressman often dispatched to rescue John from troubled waters.
“I believe [Tom] is a good man,” says O’Quinn. “In sending his son out on particular operations he’s clearly decided, it seems to me, to ask his son to do whatever he asks his other agents to do.
“He rightly believes his son is more capable than almost anyone he works with — that he’s dogged, not scared to leap tall buildings in a single bound and that when he lands on his head, he’s going to get up and go forward with his mission. Tom casts a long shadow and he knows that — and he’s not above taking advantage of that.”
Conrad agrees with O’Quinn’s assessment. “Tom uses his charisma to get his way,” he says. “You can love your kid and f- -k your kid up pretty bad.”
You can love your kid and f–k your kid up pretty bad.
As a sidelight to his spy work, John blows off steam by writing and publicly performing folky songs documenting his undercover work — his way of trying to stay grounded in his increasingly chaotic world. “We often regard people who do this sort of work as being a little robotic and unquestioning, like horses with blinders on,” says Conrad (who wrote all of John’s songs). “No one is like that; I imagine the hard part of their job is wrestling with being dedicated to having to complete a task they didn’t pick. The songs just let out what [John] is thinking. They’re saying he’s wide awake inside. Mike [Dorman] happens to be a really gifted musician, which was great … we didn’t have to voice-swap or get someone else to play the guitar.”
Conrad says he has a clear idea where “Patriot” is headed if it’s picked up for a second season.
“I’m hoping and planning to make more of them,” he says. “You have to thread the needle … if you want to be important to an audience, you have to tell a story that naturally has another chapter and doesn’t feel like it’s artificially being added to. I know where I wanted Season 1 to end — and where I want the show to end.”
“Patriot” Series premiere Friday on Amazon
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