by Matthew Thompson
When it comes to historical dramas, I prefer to head way back in time. Give me stuff like Spartacus, Rome or Vikings. Merely a century or two old? Not usually my thing. And yet, TV keeps throwing those at me and for one reason or another, I keep watching them.
One of the latest in television’s ever-growing lineup of 19th century dramas is Taboo. The BBC/FX series set in 1814 focuses on James Delaney (Tom Hardy) who – after time away in Africa – returns home to England following his father’s death. Among the things left to him from his father is a piece of land of great interest to a number of parties. The result is Delaney – alongside his hodgepodge crew of collected cohorts – tangling with everyone from his sister’s husband to the powerful East India Company to the Prince of England.
In my eyes, the major appeal of the first season of Taboo is watching Tom Hardy be a total badass for eight hours. When he’s tearing some giant hulk of a man down with a pair of meat hooks, he’s absolutely being a badass. When he grumbles about Nootka and whatever else to the even more indecipherable Stephen Graham, he sounds like a badass. When he sits through torture like it is no big deal, he certainly seems pretty badass. And somehow when he merely walks down the street, he looks like a badass even in that ridiculous hat of his. If you’re like me and enjoy seeing Tom Hardy do badass stuff, he definitely does his fair share in Taboo.
The pace of the series can certainly be plodding at times. And the whole affair is quite grim. I know I had to be in a certain mood to watch it each week and it certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste. The seemingly omniscient powers of Hardy’s character may turn some off as well though I can’t say it bothered me personally. Finally, some storylines just don’t really work that well. Namely the one with Delaney’s sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin). And the way it wraps up seems to indicate that maybe the writers agree with that assessment.
The finale caps a season the way one should: wrapping up the year’s storylines – in explosive fashion may I add – while still leaving open enough possibilities for a potential second season (which it has been renewed for in the time since the finale aired). The slow pace and dark atmosphere might not be for everyone, but Taboo seems like a nice vehicle for Hardy on the small-screen and I look forward to a second round whenever it comes out.
A few more things:
- Familiar Faces: Along with the previously mentioned Hardy, Graham and Chaplin, I recognized Jonathon Pryce (Game of Thrones), Mark Gatiss (Sherlock) and Franka Potente (the Bourne films).
- Outside of Delaney, my favorite character was Lorna Bow. Initially she seemed like just an obstacle for James or something for the East India Company to use against him, but she grew into something much more interesting. Jessie Buckley did a great job in the role.
- These shorter TV reviews are a bit of a work in progress still. I think these first couple this week came out alright though. I went generally spoiler-free for both since they are first seasons. Not sure how I will do these for later seasons in series, but I think I’ll give that a try soon as well.