Saturday, March 3, 2018

Pilot Review: The Looming Tower

The Looming Tower (Hulu)
Premiered February 28

Hulu is amping up its television slate these days after achieving a historic best series win at the Emmys ahead of rivals Netflix and Amazon, and here we have one of its more high-profile shows, billed as a miniseries. Osama Bin Laden and the September 11th terrorist attacks have understandably played a huge part in American cinema in the past twelve or so years, dating back to the concurrent releases of “United 93” and “World Trade Center,” the first films to truly dramatize the attacks on a large scale. I was extremely impressed by Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” which traced the search for Bin Laden after the attacks, and I still contend that it was the subject of unnecessary backlash about some of its content and is considerably better than most people think. Now, this miniseries does its best to blame the lack of cooperation between the CIA and the FBI for the fact that Bin Laden was able to pull off the attacks. While theoretically intriguing, we do know how it all ends, making how things get there less enticing. What’s most notable about this first episode is that it was directed by Alex Gibney, the master documentarian who won an Oscar for “Taxi to the Dark Side.” While I did recognize the likes of Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg (by his voice only), Tahar Rahim from “A Prophet,” Wrenn Schmidt from “Person of Interest,” and Bill Camp from “The Night Of,” I suspect that this series, based on a book by Lawrence Wright, might have worked better as nonfiction. Jeff Daniels, who has lately become known for a certain type of role, is at his least snappy and sarcastic, and the revelation that he has three separate families to come home to doesn’t add much since he still seems focused on his work whenever he needs to be. I’m moderately interested in watching the second episode, which has already been released along with the third in typical Hulu fashion, but I’m not optimistic after this.

How will it work as a series? There seems to be a focus on the testimony that came much after the events of September 11th occurred, and so that seems like the best way to anchor the story since everything has to lead to communication failing so miserably that the attacks do in fact happen. It could be worthwhile to watch, but there’s something missing here.
How long will it last? Technically, it’s a miniseries, so I don’t see a reason why it would continue. Another show of the same sort from Gibney, however, might be in the cards if it’s successful. Ratings data is never immediately available for streaming shows, but the most measurable figure is how good the reviews are, which in this case appear to be relatively positive.

Pilot grade: B-

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