British shows set in Australia and streamable in the United States are few and far between. But now one joins that small group: “The Tourist.”
The show, already popular in the UK (where it was released on January 1st) is hoping to garner some foreign fans in the United States through its release on HBO Max this month. The premise is sure to hook many through its thriller plot, even if the style may be different than what many American viewers are accustomed to.
The first episode begins on a road in the Australian outback. The Man (Jamie Dornan, “Belfast”) is listening to music in a simple old orange car when he notices in the rearview mirror that a huge tank truck is approaching a little too fast. The truck continues attempting to drive The Man off the road and is eventually successful. After an off-road pursuit The Man believes he has successfully escaped — but the next moment, he knows nothing. He wakes up in a hospital unable to remember a single thing about himself.
From there the plot ambles along without a sense of urgency. A clumsy probationary constable, Helen Chambers (Danielle Macdonald, “Falling for Figaro”) is assigned to The Man’s case and works to help him find a trigger for his memory. This leads him to a variety of locations as he attempts to piece together the story of what he did leading up to his fateful drive.
Some standouts along this journey are the elderly couple The Man rents a room from, Sue (Genevieve Lemon, “The Power of the Dog”) and Ralph (Danny Adcock, “Les Norton”). These two provide a rather interesting dynamic, as Sue seems overly concerned with The Man, while Ralph remains obstinate and quiet, refusing to use his hearing aids.
Even with an array of quirky characters, however, it’s hard to distinguish what this show cares about. There is something about the style that pulls you back from the characters rather than drawing you in — it feels very much like you are only observing everything happening, failing to immerse you like most great TV does. Perhaps that’s because it is hard to relate to a character that doesn’t even know himself, or perhaps it’s simply because the style is so barren.
Everything seems overly calculated, with simple dialogue and no flourishes. While the cinematography is often visually interesting, each and every scene is bathed in a warm yellow color palette, creating a sameness throughout the first 56-minute episode. Not a single moment is allowed to stand out from the others.
“The Tourist” is a stark and restrained show, save for a few moments of dry humor (there is a recurring bit about the frivolousness of having to sign out a bathroom key). It’s a high contrast to many big-budget American releases in the same genre, which often have bright colors, loud explosions and fluffy dialogue that doesn’t lead to any significant impact on the plot. “The Tourist” certainly gives a different take on what it means to be in the thriller genre when compared to American releases, turning its slow and calculated pace into an advantage. While they may not be instantly immersed, viewers begin “The Tourist” in the same position as its central character, with nothing known and everything to be revealed. Viewers find out everything at the same time the characters do, but the slow pace leaves you expecting more than the show is willing to give you in the first episode.
For those that have the patience to wait for the sparse, shining moments of humor and drops of plot, “The Tourist” may be worth the time purely because you get to enjoy the unique cinematography during the wait.
Daily Arts Contributor Mallory Edgell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.