Paranoia and conspiracy in New York: Rubicon is the new 'Mad Men'

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The Independent Culture

It has exposed Madison Avenue's dark, drunken soul and made unlikely heroes out of a teacher-turned-meth-dealer and his hapless sidekick. Now AMC, home to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, is hoping to turn us all into conspiracy nuts with its newest drama, the twisty, convoluted thriller Rubicon.

Will it succeed? Almost certainly, for while Rubicon doesn't have the most original premise – James Badge Dale plays Will Travers, an obsessive and brilliant analyst who works for a mysterious government agency and lost his wife and child on 9/11, so far, so standard – it scores points with its willingness to take its time in setting up the central conspiracy and its refusal to talk down to its audience.

From the slow opening sequence, which hints at something malignant in the heart of a winter paradise, to the way in which we the audience remain in the dark even when Will himself isn't, Rubicon harks back to a more paranoid age. It's set in modern-day New York but its tone and atmosphere are far closer to the 1970s, the heyday of the political conspiracy thriller.

Then there's the cast. Badge Dale delivers a strong central performance despite occasionally coming off as a more tormented version of Glee's Mr Schu, but the real joy comes from the supporting actors, including Arliss Howard as Will's slippery boss and Miranda Richardson as a mysterious woman whose family appears to be at the heart of the conspiracy. Richardson's real purpose remains suitably obscure after the end of a first episode in which simultaneously a great deal and very little appears to happen. Rather than frustrating us, though, the deliberately obscure dialogue and unhurried pace is the key to the show's appeal. In an era where thrillers unspool at breakneck speed, all furious camera and hurried moves, it's something of a relief to be asked to sit back and be told a story.

That a good story is worth waiting for is one of the central tenets of AMC's recent dramatic success. For just as Mad Men proceeds at an occasionally glacial pace, placing character development ahead of plot twists, so Rubicon harks back to the days of intelligent adult dramas.

The series proper begins in America in August.

Watch the trailer at watch?v=Egu8fDL3cw0