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Kiefer Sutherland Returns to the Spy Game with Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole,” Kiefer Sutherland’s new spy show on Paramount+, has about 24 twists per episode. At one point at the end of the fourth episode, after the latest crazy twist, a major character says “What’s up with you people? Is this shit fun to you?” By that point, it wasn’t too much fun for me. 

If you’re willing to turn off your brain and just roll with episodic scripts that don’t have to make sense because the next twist can just undo everything that happened in the previous one, then I have a show for you. And that’s not the harsh criticism one might think. There’s room in the TV landscape for spy nonsense, and “Rabbit Hole” is definitely well-made spy nonsense. The cast is strong, the production value is high, the pace is mach speed. It’s like one of those CBS action shows with the volume turned up to 11. If they don’t slow down, someone could get hurt.

The premiere, written and directed by John Requa & Glenn Ficarra (“Crazy Stupid Love”), has an intriguing set-up. It introduces us to John Weir (Sutherland) and his team of tech geniuses. They are corporate espionage operatives. What does that mean exactly? The opening scene features Weir at a bar, where he puts an operation in play that includes a prerecorded TV news broadcast that catches the attention of a power broker, who then sells massive amounts of stock based on the fake news, destroying a company. Weir and his people are hired to manipulate the markets from the shadows. They’re James Bond with 401Ks instead of nuclear weapons.

Weir’s latest assignment involves framing a government executive named Edward Homm (Rob Yang), under the orders of an old ally named Valence (the always-welcome Jason Butler Harner of “Ozark”). Let’s just say that things go very wrong. Before he knows it, both Homm and Valence are dead, and Weir’s office has been blown up. He’s on the run with a woman named Hailey (the charming Meta Golding), who he met and slept with after that opening scene. And now he suspects she’s a part of the frame job that has made him a wanted criminal. Enid Graham and the legendary Charles Dance co-star in a show that sometimes seems to be making itself up as it goes along.

The goal is clearly to give viewers the “tumbling down a rabbit hole” sensation sparked by the title, throwing tech and spy concepts into a blender and hitting puree. The four episodes sent for press constantly adjust what you just saw and what you think you know. Wait, this guy was really bad/good? This guy is still alive? What is happening? The confusion aspect gets overplayed and frustrating as the first few episodes bounce back and forth in time to such a degree that I gave up on trying to follow it. It’s so content to add new twists and turns that it becomes numbing.

I don’t expect deep characters in a show this fast-paced—and it should be noted that Sutherland seems to be having a blast throwing out cocky one-liners yet again—but you also don’t want to get whiplash from twist to twist. And you definitely don’t want to feel like you’re being cheated by writers who haven’t really mapped out a show as much as cribbed from better ones. (It also doesn’t help that there’s a better old-fashioned spy show premiering on a competing streamer the same week that I’ll get to in a few days.)

"Rabbit Hole" is ultimately for the hardcore Kiefer Sutherland fans only, who can forgive the inane plotting to get a hit of that Jack Bauer thrill back again. Going down this “Rabbit Hole” only made me want to watch “24” again. Heck, maybe even “Designated Survivor.”

Four episodes were screened for review. "Rabbit Hole" premieres on Paramount+ on March 24th.

 

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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