Corporate Espionage Is a Dirty Way to Get Rich – Rabbit Hole (2023) Series Premiere

The prospect of Kiefer Sutherland returning to TV in a new conspiracy/spy thriller series will unavoidably draw comparisons to his long run on Fox’s 24. Fortunately, the creators of Rabbit Hole (or Rabbit/Hole, as the credits spell it) have put some real work into setting this show apart with a different milieu, a very different character, and a lot more sly humor. The premiere episodes are a great deal of fun, perhaps more than I expected.

The show comes from Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the producing team best known for NBC’s smash hit This Is Us. The pair have made other shows (some good, some not) that were less successful, and co-directed a few feature films to mixed results, so it remains to be seen whether this project will resonate with viewers. I think it has potential, but being stuck on Paramount+ without the benefit of any Star Trek branding or connections may put it at a disadvantage there.

Rabbit Hole (2023) - Enid Graham
Title:Rabbit Hole
Episodes:1.01 – Pilot
1.02 – At Any Given Moment
Release Date: Mar. 26, 2023
Watched On: Paramount+

Sutherland’s character John Weir is a spy of sorts, but is decidedly not Jack Bauer. Rather than a crusading federal agent, he’s a shady corporate contractor who engages in subterfuge, espionage, and sabotage for the purpose of manipulating markets and crushing his clients’ business rivals. As he explains, “I like making rich assholes pay me to make other rich assholes lose money.” In the first assignment we see, Weir and his team stage a fake news broadcast about a stock crash to trick a major investor into dumping his shares, thus precipitating an actual crash.

Weir is very good at his job and has no compunctions about the ethics of it, but a life of deceit and a tragic backstory have left him extremely paranoid and possibly delusional. He admits that he sometimes has trouble telling what’s real from what’s not. He assumes that he’s always being spied on, which in fact he might be. Among those keeping tabs on him is FBI financial crimes investigator Jo Madi (Enid Graham), who knows that Weir is up to no good but hasn’t quite caught him red-handed in anything.

Weir finds his life turned upside down after taking a job from an old friend. Although the scheme appears to go off successfully at first, Weir’s face winds up plastered all over the news, framed for two and possibly more deaths. With everyone looking for him, he must use all his skills at deception to avoid getting caught while investigating what really happened, who set him up, and why. Unsure whom he can turn to for help, Weir is reluctantly partnered with Hailey Winton (Meta Golding), an attorney – and former one-night-stand – unfortunate enough to get wrapped up in this predicament. However, for as much as she appears to be on his side, all of Weir’s instincts tell him not to trust anybody. Can he ever be sure his only ally doesn’t have a secret agenda?

Sutherland remains a charismatic TV lead and does a great job distinguishing the character from Jack Bauer. His Weir is cynical, but not a hardened and battle-scarred agent of vengeance. He thinks he knows all the tricks and is generally amused at what he perceives to be attempts to spy on or con him, whether real or imagined. Having used other people most of his life, he can only expect everyone to do the same to him in return.

The plotting is suspenseful, albeit far-fetched and implausible. I have to wonder whether some viewers will find it hard to follow, or just generally too clever by half. For example, I spent all of the two premiere episodes waiting for the other shoe to drop on Hailey, revealing her to be in on the conspiracy. That hasn’t happened yet (and may not, I don’t know), but it sure seems like the sort of thing this type of show would do. When you load your story with plot twists, the twists themselves inevitably become predictable.

What really works for Rabbit Hole (and distinguishes it most from 24) is its sly humor. The dialogue is witty and the character banter amusing. An early scene between John and Hailey is downright hilarious and got a big laugh out of me. Another storyline has some funny infighting between different divisions within the FBI. Not jokey at all, the humor is worked in organically and helps to lighten the tone, hopefully enough to prevent this show from turning into the kind of turgid slog 24 too often did in its later seasons.

Also, Charles Dance is introduced at the end of the second episode as a presumably important character, which is usually a plus to any TV series.

Beyond the obvious similarities to Kiefer Sutherland’s most famous prior TV role, I wasn’t sure what or how much to expect out of Rabbit Hole before watching. I found it to be a very pleasant surprise and can only hope it holds up in the episodes to come.

Rabbit Hole (2023) - Meta Golding

Video Streaming

Paramount+ streams Rabbit Hole in 4K HDR at an aspect ratio of 2.20:1. Like far too many other recent shows for my liking, the visuals in this one are underlit and graded darkly to the point of being annoying. While the picture may not have any black crush or lost details, I fail to understand the purpose of shooting interiors as shadowy and dim even in the middle of the day. Do these office buildings not have lights? Even daytime exterior scenes tend to have a cool blue/teal color filter and a dark haze. Image sharpness is acceptable and the HDR offers decent highlights from time to time, but I felt that the attempts to stylize the photography were often counter-productive and leave it looking dull instead.

The 5.1 audio sounds fine. The episode opening credits make clever and aggressive use of the surround channels. Fidelity is good, and the musical score offers a little bass. This isn’t really an action show, but an explosion in the first episode hits with a decent thump.

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