Plot: John Weir, a master of deception in the world of corporate espionage, is framed for murder by powerful forces who have the ability to influence and control populations.
Review: Kiefer Sutherland experienced a career resurgence when he played Jack Bauer on the long-running FOX series 24. As an unabashed fan of the insane, real-time thriller series, I loved Sutherland’s intense portrayal of an All-American hero who would stop at nothing to defend his country. After 24 left the air, Sutherland played a much different character in the political series Designated Survivor. Sutherland’s down-to-earth performance was consistent throughout the series, which made him an everyman character who bordered on being a superhero. Now, Kiefer is back in a new thriller show with action elements and conspiracy theories aplenty, this time on a streaming platform where he can drop copious f-bombs while still defending the United States from nefarious bad guys harnessing technology to bend the masses to their evil ways. Basically, Rabbit Hole is Mr. Robot if it were produced by the creators of 24. That is not necessarily bad, but you know what you are in store for from when the series begins.
Based on the trailers, you may think you know what Rabbit Hole is and would be partially right. Kiefer Sutherland plays John Weir, an expert at corporate espionage who helps sway business outcomes based on carefully orchestrated operations that make his clients rich, and their enemies fail. Think Mission: Impossible meets Inception but without the science fiction twists. John and his team are experts at their craft, making them incredibly paranoid. Weir has mastered thinking of scenarios a dozen steps in advance, allowing him to pull off intricate schemes without a hitch. But, when a plan goes awry, Weir becomes the prime suspect in a massive murder conspiracy that puts him on the radar of every major agency. At that point, the series adds a big dose of The Fugitive, a reboot of which Sutherland starred for the now-defunct Quibi. All of this occurs within the first episode with a hefty twist that changes what this series is really all about.
Having seen the first four episodes of Rabbit Hole, I am unsure if series creators John Requa and Glenn Ficarra were entirely certain about what they wanted this show to be. Over the first episodes, the plot, tone, and style of Rabbit Hole shift again and again from dramatic to tense, comedic and light to violent and cynical, and then to a rip-roaring thrill ride of a tale. What is certain is that Kiefer Sutherland appears to be having a lot more fun with this character than he has in any series he has starred in. Sutherland plays Weir as a smart-ass who suffers from anxiety and paranoia but is not afraid to mess around with his colleagues and the targets of his various tactics to clear his name and attempt to stop the malicious antagonists at the center of this narrative. Sutherland gets to do what he has become quite good at doing, including running around, using computers via VPNs and all sorts of Hollywood hacker technology, and tapping into the political climate at any given time. Rabbit Hole is awash with references to the Deep State, fake news, and extremists coercing the public with online propaganda.
What helps make Rabbit Hole work is the solid cast surrounding Sutherland, especially Charles Dance and Meta Golding. Dance, who plays Dr. Ben Wilson, also seems to have a lot of fun with his character here, playing Ben Wilson as a vital participant in Weir’s operation and a mentor deeply rooted in the conspiracies that make up this story. Golding, who plays attorney Hailey Winton, is a solid foil for Kiefer Sutherland, serving as both a love interest as well as our entry into the complex core of this tale. Jason Butler Harner is great as Weir’s friend, Valence, while Enid Graham is solid as FBI agent Jo Madi who is on the trail of Weir before anyone else realizes what is going on. Many other characters factor into this story, but to divulge anything about them would spoil what Requa and Ficarra have in store for you. It should go without saying that this series has pretty much summed up its entire concept in the trailer but really gives away nothing about what is really going on here.
Best known for writing Bad Santa and directing Crazy, Stupid, Love, and Focus. John Requa and Glenn Ficarra are clearly trying to emulate Joe and Anthony Russo’s career trajectory with this series. Rabbit Hole does not quite have the grandeur of big-screen productions, but it does feature solid set pieces and some well-orchestrated moments that kept it from feeling too much like a network drama. Still, several commercial break moments made this series feel more basic cable than premium. The problems with the series are that it feels like something we have seen before, even from a series that starred Kiefer Sutherland. Requa and Ficarra’s last series, neXt, was a network drama with a procedural format that boasted a couple of actors we see in Rabbit Hole. The biggest shift from that series to this one is the profanity.
Fans of 24 and Designated Survivor will probably like Rabbit Hole. Fans of Mission: Impossible will probably enjoy it, too, but no one will get a series that reinvents the genre. At best, Rabbit Hole has fun playing with the conventions of the espionage genre and gives Kiefer Sutherland a character who is having a little more fun saving the world than he has over the last twenty years. For an eight-episode season, the first four chapters of Rabbit Hole set up a lot of different directions this series could go and boasts an ensemble that would be entertaining to watch as they try to get there. Some tweaking and a little more intensity could make this a solid ongoing series, but for now, it is a forgettable one. I had fun watching Rabbit Hole while it was on, but I felt no need to keep going once I finished the available episodes.
Rabbit Hole premieres on March 26th on Paramount+.