July 25, 2010

SLOW RIVER:

People, Places and Menace: Moody Paranoia (MIKE HALE, 7/25/10, NY Times)

As conceived by the writer and producer Jason Horwitch (“Medical Investigation”), who created “Rubicon” but left the show in February, the American Policy Institute was a research organization. Mr. Bromell, whose résumé as a writer and producer includes “Northern Exposure,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “Homicide: Life on the Street,” came aboard after the original pilot was shot and became the sole show runner after Mr. Horwitch’s departure. He decided a change was needed.

“People think in think tanks,” he said. “And some of the topics that they’re dealing with are very interesting. But it’s very dry and very abstract.”

So the insitute became a hide-in-plain-sight group of intelligence analysts, a change in keeping with Mr. Bromell’s desire to make a show “redolent of those early ‘70s American movies that I love.” The show also reflected a central fact in his life: He grew up following his C.I.A. officer father from station to station around the Middle East. “It’s a very weird experience growing up in a house of secrets,” Mr. Bromell said. “My brother and I had a sense that he was not what he pretended to be, this regular guy. Because he just didn’t act that way, and he’d get a phone call in the middle of the night and disappear for two days. Stuff like that. His cover was usually a State Department cover, ‘second secretary of agriculture.’ ”

Mr. Bromell already addressed those memories more directly in his autobiographical novel “Little America” in 2001, but he’s quick to acknowledge that his personal history was part of what made “Rubicon” an attractive project.

“It does fascinate me,” he said of the intelligence world. “I have very, very mixed feelings about what those guys do and don’t do. But it’s like hookers. They’re not going away. They’re with us forever.”

Mr. Bromell still knows some of “those guys,” and he went to them for a refresher course while charting the first season of “Rubicon.” One thing he learned, he said, was that since the Sept. 11 attacks the role of the intelligence analyst has become more important “because it’s really more likely going to be something they figure out,” rather than action in the field, that prevents a future attack.

His research also reinforced an aspect of the show that has drawn a lot of comment since the pilot episode was shown: its retro, low-tech look, with an emphasis on stacks of documents and face-to-face meetings rather than digital displays and satellite communication. Mr. Bromell found that in the classified realms, paper and film retain their usefulness because they are harder to hack into than computers and cellphones.

“We’re not going to be able to solve anything though a Google search,” said Richard Robbins, a staff writer for the show. “Thank God. It’s a gift for a writer.”

Down on South Street this means desks and bookcases stacked with binders and maps bristling with push pins. A preponderance of clutter in one shot leads to an order to “lose some of the office gack,” and crew members dutifully strip official-looking papers from a bulletin board.

“Rubicon” will be the third drama series on AMC’s current schedule, joining the overwhelming critical favorites “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” shows it resembles only in having a distinctive look and pace that set it apart from just about anything else in prime time.

The show’s importance to AMC may have been reflected in an unusually long development process. Mr. Horwitch spent more than two years building up the concept and producing the pilot before AMC ordered a full season last summer. As work progressed on the additional episodes, Mr. Horwitch said, there was “a slight variation in what I had in mind for the long term of the show and what they were looking for,” which led to his departure. He declined to discuss that variation but suggested that in his original pilot the show’s story lines had been, by design, a little less clear.

The success of AMC’s other shows will mean added scrutiny for “Rubicon,” whose long, quiet takes and cerebral storytelling may come as a shock to viewers weaned on network crime dramas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 25, 2010 8:32 AM
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