“American Odyssey” crackles with action and suspense from the first moment of Sunday’s premiere episode all the way through at least the measly five episodes NBC sent for review.
The series, created by writer-director Peter Horton and writers Adam Armus and Kay Foster, is not just about a female Special Forces officer fighting to prove she’s alive after an attack in North Africa.
It’s also about a young, truth-driven protester trying to uncover the connection between the government’s mercenary security forces and allegations of financial support going to the groups they are supposed to be fighting, one family’s despair over the presumed loss of their wife and mother and another’s struggle to keep it together because Dad is on the trail of government corruption.
And that’s just the half of it.
The pin is pulled from the dramatic grenade when Special Forces kill a major insurgent leader in Mali. Before they can evacuate, they are set upon by a group of hired guns, who remove all evidence from the site, or so they think. Sgt. Odelle Ballard (Anna Friel) has found evidence on a laptop of payment from a major U.S. firm called SOC to rebel insurgents and has transferred the data to a flash drive.
Meanwhile, back in New York City, young Harrison Walters (Jake Robinson) is in the midst of protesting a G-8 summit with members of Occupy and other movements. He meets a weird, conspiracy-obsessed loner named Bob Offer (Nate Mooney) and tries to shake him off, but Offer later is shown to have the one piece of evidence that could blast a hole through the SOC scandal and the government’s cover-up of the fact that Odelle did not die in an attack on her unit in Mali.
There are several spheres of action spinning at all times through every breathless moment of “American Odyssey,” including the growing certainty on the part of a disillusioned corporate lawyer named Peter Decker (Peter Facinelli) that SOC is involved in very shady and potentially lethal business with enemy forces.
Perhaps the real brilliance of the show has to do with the fact that Horton and company never let us forget that these are human stories. Odelle’s husband, Ron (Jim True-Frost), believes she is dead and is trying to keep his emotions in check for the sake of his young daughter, Suzanne (Sadie Sink), who is certain her mother is alive. Decker’s wife, Sarah (Sarah Wynter), is terrified by what her husband is doing and trying, seemingly in vain, to hold their family together.
“American Odyssey” is rooted in current events, which provides immediate credibility. But like “Homeland,” “Person of Interest” and other shows, it also makes effective use of the post-9/11 air of wariness that wafts through American society.
Conspiracy buffs will be in heaven watching “American Odyssey,” but the rest of us will just be completely hooked.