USA’s “Treadstone,” based on the Jason Bourne saga created by Robert Ludlum and then adapted into hit films like “The Bourne Legacy” and “The Bourne Supremacy” and just “Jason Bourne,” might have worked better when Matt Damon was tearing through multiplexes as the iconic character. In 2019, it feels antiquated, outmatched by superior globetrotting spy shows like “Killing Eve” and leaving unanswered the justification for its existence. There’s an occasional interesting plot turn or character beat in "Treadstone," but it’s mostly a gray mush of things you’ve seen in better spy shows, and much better spy movies.
Developed by “Heroes” creator Tim Kring, “Treadstone” is advertised as being “From the World of Jason Bourne” and details the program that created agents like Bourne, played by Matt Damon in most of the movies except for that one in which a variation was played by Jeremy Renner. The hook behind “The Bourne Legacy” was downright Hitchockian—a man with no memory and crazy action skills trying to figure out who he is, who trained him, and why he can’t remember any of it. That hook carries over to “Treadstone,” which sees sleeper agents around the world being activated like something out of “The Manchurian Candidate.” Who is activating them now? Why? Meanwhile, we flash back to the early days of the Treadstone program as one of the patients escapes and tries to clear his name.
The globetrotting and time-jumping to different “Bournes” makes for a show that’s hard to follow and gives us too little reason to make the effort. It’s almost as if Kring grafted his “Heroes” model onto the Bourne template—after all, that show was about ordinary people around the world coming together after they learned they weren’t so ordinary—but this show lacks the comic book energy of that concept. It’s dull in terms of character and downright laughable with self-serious dialogue (a scene in which a reporter tells a woman her father has been murdered with the casual energy of a Grubhub delivery person is so flatly executed it could go viral) and “spy talk.” Good actors like Michelle Forbes and Omar Metwally (the best in the show) are left hanging by a script that’s convoluted and generic.
Even the fight scenes, a hallmark of the Bourne movies, are poorly done. There’s one early on that’s so edited to the punches that it gave me a headache. In other words, we change angles with each swing of an arm, which is kind of the opposite of the handheld, jittery style of Paul Greengrass’ films, which put you in the middle of the combat instead of using editing to disguise weak choreography. One approach increases adrenaline, one just exhausts you. Occasionally, a car chase or some other action sequence will wake you up, but then the show drops back into its overcrowded story.
That’s really the biggest problem with “Treadstone”—there’s no one to care about. Every time you get involved with a character, the show jumps to another one, and you have to remember who they are and what they’re doing. Imagine a spin-off about the world of James Bond without 007. Whoever thought turning a show built around a someone like Jason Bourne into an ensemble of forgettable quasi-Bournes was a good idea should be put in a government program themselves.
Three episodes screened for review.