The Comey Rules (series streaming on Voot); Cast: Jeff Daniels, Brendan Gleeson, Jennifer Ehle, Holly Hunter, Peter Coyote, Oona Chaplin, Scoot McNairy; Direction: Billy Ray; Rating: * * and 1/2 (two and a half stars)
By Vinayak Chakravorty
To wholly savour The Comey Rules, one would need a certain relish for contemporary American politics beyond the knowledge of news headlines — particularly of certain controversies pertaining to the FBI and the election of Donald Trump as 45th President of the Unites States.
Keeping that in mind is essential because the two-part series makes no effort to explain a lot of political subtext for those who came in late. The show captures a slice of political conflicts and chaos in the United States in a way that it remains very specific to the genre of political drama, as well as the country it talks about.
Jeff Daniels stars as former FBI director James Comey in a narrative that follows his story as he tries carrying on with his duties once President Trump (Brendan Gleeson) assumes office.
Trump and Comey would develop an equation that was far from cordial, which could seem surprising because Comey, with his self-professed regard for family values and old-school morality at work, would seem like a classic Republican template.
There was more to James Comey, as the series will unfold. In the run-up to the 2016 US presidential polls, his alleged role has often been spoken about in the Hillary Clinton email controversy (the agency had initially investigated and cleared Clinton’s name of the charges till Comey reopened the case less than a fortnight before the elections, effectively ruining Clinton’s chances).
Based on Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty, the miniseries tries giving the subject’s perspective about the stormy incidents in his life. The narrative tells us Comey had to take certain decisions in the Trump-versus-Clinton war being fought beyond the electoral turf, which would put him in a no-win situation. The script seems to insist Comey was blind to the pit he would fall into in this political tussle, and he even disregarded the advice of his wife Patrice (Jennifer Ehle).
Much of the drama draws from conversations Comey had with Trump, recalled by the former in his book. The screenplay overflows with real-life characters that have been key to current American politics — notably Kingsley Ben-Adir as Barack Obama and Scoot McNairy as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. In fact Rosenstein serves as narrator for a substantial part, though not with great effect, as series writer-director Billy Ray tries using him as an objective voice while highlighting how Comey’s value system changes as he moves up the power ladder.
For Americans, Comey’s rise and fall continues to be a topic of intrigue and his book not surprisingly was a bestseller. Strictly from the American viewership point, this must have been an easy show to hardsell.
For the sake of universal significance and entertainment, the show needed to be more sorted in storytelling and clearer with details. A lot of what goes on could seem of little or no interest to Indian viewers, beyond enjoying a couple of superb performances.
Brendan Gleeson, for one, is instantly likeable for the way he brings alive the often unpleasant quirks of Donald Trump without reducing the character to a spoof. He makes a fine antithesis to Jeff Daniels’ Comey, executed with cultivated restraint.
(Vinayak Chakravorty can be reached at email@example.com)