Screenwriters Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver know how to get the party started and keep it lively.
Hulu’s “National Treasure,” not to be confused with the Nicolas Cage franchise of the same name, is a four-episode mini-series about the downfall of a popular comedian. Paul Finchley (Robbie Coltrane) was the more irascible half of a popular British comedy duo (with Tim McInnerny’s Karl), but his entire world collapses around him when he’s accused of a horrible crime. A woman comes forward to accuse Finchley of raping her in his trailer on the set of a movie decades earlier. And when that news hits the press, others come forward to accuse Finchley as well, including the young lady who babysat for the Finchleys and now accuses Paul of having sex with her when she was only 15 years old. With echoes of the Cosby case ringing in our ears, “National Treasure” is about what happens to a life in the public eye when it’s accused of rape, but it’s more about the ripple effect of the accusation than a traditional legal drama.
You probably want to know if he did it. And, to be honest, “National Treasure” plays a little too loosely with the mystery surrounding his guilt or innocence. What I mean is it becomes too much of the focus of the piece when the show is way more interesting when it’s concerned with the impact of the accusations more than the veracity of them. At first, Paul’s wife Marie (the amazing Julie Walters) stands by her man. Sure, Paul has always had a voracious sexual appetite, and he’s cheated on her numerous times, but they have something of a unique arrangement—if Paul admits the infidelity, it’s all OK. But is it? And does the fact that Paul still somewhat regularly goes to prostitutes for a more violent brand of sex than he gets at home indicate his degradation of women? Marie starts to question whether or not Paul is capable of that of which he has been accused, and it’s clear from relatively early on that she thinks he might be. Walters is spectacular here, getting what really becomes the best part in the mini-series, as someone who has looked the other way so many times that she starts to feel like an accomplice.
Also incredible is the great Andrea Riseborough as Dee, Paul and Marie’s deeply troubled daughter. Dee is a former addict and in jeopardy of losing her children. She’s been a tabloid sensation for years—the troubled daughter of the famous funny man—and she starts to wonder if her problems can’t be traced back to her father’s behavior when she was younger. Is it even possible that Paul abused her? Dee starts to question everything she thought about her family and her beloved dad, and it sends her spiraling.
“National Treasure” at first feels like it’s examining the public presumption of guilt in the world of celebrity, but it becomes much more grounded within the drama of the Finchley family as it progresses. The question isn’t so much if Paul did it or if he’ll be found guilty or innocent but how even asking such a question would forever change someone’s life. Even if Paul didn’t do it, how could Marie ever look at him the same way once she realizes that she thinks he’s capable of being guilty? “National Treasure” is about how accusations can’t be rescinded and doubt can create rifts that can never be fully closed again. It’s a strong, challenging drama with great performances. Seek it out on Hulu this Wednesday.