By Calum Henderson
Is there any more glorious sight in this world than a capital-A movie Actor appearing in a television series, acting their absolute guts out to make sure we don't forget they're the real deal? It's the theatrical equivalent of David Warner walking out to bat in a club cricket game wearing his Australia helmet. Sir Anthony Hopkins in Westworld was a classic example, but don't overlook Richard Gere's performance in new BBC megadrama MotherFatherSon.
In his first TV job since a 1976 episode of Kojak, he plays hyper-wealthy American media mogul Max Finch, a self-made businessman whose every utterance sounds like it could be the genesis of a bad Facebook meme. "We are all capable of disloyalty if we're not managed properly," he imparts to his son Caden (Billy Howle), who runs a major British newspaper despite seemingly having no qualifications to do so. A few scenes later he gives the staff of his TV network's flagship current affairs show a condescending lecture on how best to position their chairs for a political interview, making them all chant his mantra: "Neutral is no good!"
You wonder if this was maybe also the mantra in the show's writers' room. It was created by Tom Rob Smith, whose most recent writing credit was The Assassination of Gianni Versace, a series that didn't exactly win any of its awards for subtlety. There's a lot going on here and all of it seems to be swinging for the dramatic fences.
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Caden, for example, is rapidly disintegrating under a crushing weight of stress and drug addiction. You lose count of exactly how many frantic bumps of coke he does over the course of the first episode but it's more than enough to get the point across. It's gone beyond a fun, cheeky habit – now it's all just screaming into the void and extremely troubling sex scenes in his luxury penthouse apartment.
His mum, Kathryn (Helen McCrory), is also a bit of a worry. Estranged from the rest of the family (but still with enough money to keep her in impeccable designer outfits), she volunteers at a homeless charity where she's become scandalously close with one of her down-on-his-luck clients. At a posh lunch with Caden she starts to reminisce lyrically about the time her gentle son once comforted a dying seal on the beach. Imagine how intense that would be to someone on that much coke.
With all the personal and family drama it's easy to overlook the full-on murder mystery storyline unfolding at the paper, in which it appears Caden is complicit in a high-level police cover-up, or the political storyline in which Max is threatening to wield his immense power to influence the outcome of the upcoming British election.
It's a busy show, and the first episode feels bloated, excessive, faintly ridiculous. Just bad enough to hook you in and keep you watching. You need to find out exactly how wild things are going to get, to see where they're going with all of it, to experience the full glory of Richard Gere, Actor.
MotherFatherSon (TVNZ On Demand)