“Amazon Prime's new workplace thriller, The Consultant, unsuccessfully tries to bridge the gap between acid-tongued satire and pulpy genre entertainment.”
- Christoph Waltz's charismatic lead performance
- A slick, cohesive aesthetic and visual style
- A lackluster season 1 finale
- One-note supporting characters
- Numerous confusing logic jumps and plot holes
Anyone who has ever had a terrible boss will likely have a hard time watching The Consultant. The new Prime Video dark comedy series, which is based on a 2016 novel of the same name by Bentley Little, takes the cringe-inducing clichés of toxic workplace culture to their absolute extremes. From domineering bosses and unorthodox, unethical work schedules to an overwhelming, enforced fear of job loss, The Consultant is full of so many shocking HR violations that it might as well come with a trigger warning targeted at anyone who still has nightmares about the conditions of some of their past jobs (this writer included).
Altogether, The Consultant’s satirical, keen-eyed jabs at America’s toxic corporate culture might seem like too much to bear. That would be the case, at least, were it not for the moments of comedic, winking outrageousness that are littered throughout the series’ 10-episode first season. Written and run by British TV veteran Tony Basgallop, The Consultant aims to be both a treatise on the dangers of undying corporate devotion and an acidic piece of pulpy genre entertainment. The series, unfortunately, doesn’t always ride that line as well as it should.
While flawed, The Consultant does prove that typecasting an actor in a role they’ve already perfected can sometimes be for the best. That’s the case, at least, when it comes to Christoph Waltz’s performance as The Consultant’s eponymous corporate fixer, a mysterious man of unknown origin named Regus Patoff. With his strange quirks, obsessive interest in neatness, and ability to verbally manipulate anyone who comes into contact with him, Regus isn’t all that different from some of Waltz’s most iconic roles, including Inglourious Basterds‘ Hans Landa.
If Waltz’s casting as Regus is predictable, The Consultant makes it clear that there never really was another man for the job. Waltz is pitch-perfect in his latest role, which requires him to alternate between blatant malevolence and moments of polite manipulation with a Cheshire Cat-esque sense of glee. Waltz, predictably, does so without ever breaking much of a sweat. The Consultant doesn’t, however, handle its characterization of Regus quite as well as Waltz does.
From the moment he first arrives on the scene, it’s clear that Waltz’s odd corporate consultant is a person — or being — of callus efficiency. Dressed in an impeccable suit and carrying a simple briefcase, Regus arrives at the Los Angeles headquarters of CompWare, a mobile gaming company, just a few nights after the company’s founder and CEO was shot and killed in his own office. Regus’ arrival is witnessed only by Elaine (Brittany O’Grady), an ambitious assistant, and Craig (Nat Wolff), a slacker coder who is instantly suspicious of Waltz’s fixer. Craig, to his credit, isn’t wrong to be a bit paranoid about Regus’ methods and intentions.
Not only does Regus seem totally unbothered by the brutal murder of CompWare’s CEO, but he immediately inserts himself as the company’s new, de facto leader. Regus’ executive decisions, which include the firing of any remote workers who don’t immediately report to CompWare’s offices, range from coldly heartless to underhanded and downright criminal. Ultimately, though, it’s O’Grady’s Elaine and Wolff’s Craig, as well as Craig’s unsuspecting fiancée, Patti (Aimee Carrero), who are tested the most by Regus’ presence and discomforting business methods.
Across its first 10 episodes, The Consultant doesn’t run out of ways for Waltz’s Regus to manipulate Craig and Elaine. However, the series goes out of its way to build a mystery around Regus’ origins that not only proves to be lackluster, but also pushes The Consultant’s already thin sense of logic to its breaking point. While it makes sense for Craig and Elaine to be initially accommodating toward Regus, their continued willingness to go along with even his most dastardly of plans strains whatever sense of realism Basgallop might have been trying to achieve.
The Consultant’s willingness to bounce back and forth between razor-sharp moments of satire and purely pulpy action sequences — like an explosive jewelry store robbery and nighttime kidnapping — provides it with a sense of tonal unpredictability that makes watching it, at the very least, an often engaging experience. The series’ moments of pure genre fun frequently muddy and dull its more reality-based takedowns of workplace culture, though. The Consultant, as a result, ends up feeling like little more than a stylish, but hollow exercise in genre storytelling.
Season 1 of The Consultant does boast a lineup of talented directors, including WandaVision helmer Matt Shakman, who directs the series’ premiere installment. Charlotte Brändström (The Rings of Power) and Karyn Kusama (Yellowjackets), meanwhile, direct some of the show’s later installments, and both maintain the same slick visual style throughout The Consultant’s climactic episodes that Shakman establishes in its first. Unlike most modern prestige TV series, The Consultant doesn’t overstay its welcome, either. The series’ first season is comprised of just eight half-hour installments that never feel egregiously long or short.
Basgallop fails to stick the landing in The Consultant’s season 1 finale, though, which attempts to wrap up the series’ existing storylines while simultaneously setting up a potential future for itself. The closing moments of the show’s eighth episode not only leave many lingering questions either unanswered or unaddressed, but they also unconvincingly sweep some of its biggest plot holes and logic jumps under the rug. Its anticlimactic conclusion leaves The Consultant feeling oddly slighter than its eight-episode length and capable cast would otherwise suggest. It’s a series that, despite featuring one truly standout lead performance, is ultimately less than the sum of its parts.
The Consultant is now streaming on Prime Video. Digital Trends was given early access to all eight episodes of the series’ first season.
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