J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Next of Kin: Dr. Harcourt Treats Terrorism and Family Dysfunction


Family paranoia. It’s not just for horror movies anymore. Dr. Mona Harcourt always assumed her family were moderate progressive Muslims. After all, she married an Anglo Brit who looks a little like Steve Coogan (he’s actually Jack Davenport). Her brother Dr. Kareem Shirani even volunteers his time at a free clinic outside of Lahore. He is like a young and dashing version of the philanthropist in These Birds Walk, except he is about to be murdered by Islamists. The question will be to what extent was his possibly radicalized son involved? Dr. Harcourt will do her best to protect her family and other potential innocent victims in the six-episode Next of Kin (trailer here), which premieres bingeing-style this Thursday on Sundance Now.

Thanks to Guy Davenport’s new lobbying contract, his career is poised for the next level. Dr. Harcourt’s practice remains steady-as-it-goes and their son Sammi seems to be thriving at school. All appears to be well as they prepare her brother’s welcome home party, but the guest of honor never arrives.

Horrifyingly, their worst fears are confirmed by an internet video. The family is distraught, but the cops are only interested in his son Danish, who apparently dropped out of university without telling anyone. In fact, he is not on holiday in Spain. He is back in Lahore, held as a de facto prisoner by the Jihadist terror group that recruited him in London. As part of a counter-terror power play, Dr. Harcourt is forced to return to Lahore to claim her brother’s body, but that will also give her an opportunity to make contact with her nephew.

Kin is bulging at the seams with unlikely plot twists and uncomfortable family recriminations, but that is what makes it so voyeuristically entertaining. Just about everything under the sun is thrown at Mona and Guy Harcourt, but despite some bitter rows, they stay strong. Indeed, their core relationship is something we do not often see in film or TV, but it keeps us deeply invested.

On the macro side, creator-screenwriters Natasha Naryan & Paul Rutman consistently portray Islamist jihad as a cancerous threat and Western law enforcement as too bureaucratic and petty to provide an effective counter-force, which certainly reflects the state of the world. Over and over, viewers will find themselves face-palming due to the blundering of DCI Vivien Barnes’ special task force. Alas, it is all just too easy to believe.

Regardless, Archie Panjabi is absolutely terrific as Dr. Harcourt. In some ways, she is like a classic Hitchcock protag caught up in grand events beyond her control, but she has the added protective sensibilities of a mother, aunt, and medical doctor. Panjabi develops some unusually warm but deeply complex chemistry with Davenport (who was absolutely smashing as the Machiavellian Earl of Warwick in the recently closed Broadway production of Saint Joan). Viewers will really believe them together as a couple—and root for them.

Navin Chowdry is also quite good as Kareem. Even though his character is killed off early, he continues to be a potent present throughout the limited series. Viveik Kaira is an undeniably intense livewire of barely contained energy as Danish, but the real X-factor is Claire Skinner as the commanding DCI Barnes. Sometimes she has viewers booing in contempt and sometimes cheering at her grit, even within the same scene, but she is never boring.

You need to watch Kin through to the very end, because the closing montage ignited a mini-controversy after airing in the UK. ITV actually issued a statement asserting a certain character’s sudden chumminess with the terrorists didn’t really happen, even though we can see it with our own eyes. That’s right, this series is so paranoid, it doesn’t even believe itself. Yet, it is such a fitting way for it to end. Highly recommended for the skullduggery and if-I-had-but-known melodrama, Next of Kin starts streaming this Thursday (6/21) on Sundance Now.

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