Tom Hardy is an easy guy to love. By embodying the old adage, “women want him, men want to be him,” Hardy has spent the last decade or so churning out memorable performances in some of the aughts’ most popular films. Now, Hardy is making his transition to the small screen with Taboo, an original series produced by Hardy alongside his father Chips, acclaimed writer Steven Knight, and the legendary Ridley Scott.
The trailers thus far have promised an atmospheric, slightly creepy, and distinctly cinematic experience. In its first episode, we learn that James Delaney (Hardy) has been presumed dead after fleeing to Africa in 1802 following a series of violent incidents that occurred while Delaney was serving in the British military. When he returns in 1812 after the death of his father, Delaney’s arrival is shrouded in controversy, particularly in relation to his half sister Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin) and Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) of the East India Company, who claims that James’ inheritance of a plot of Canadian land called Nootka Sound is necessary for ensuring Britain’s victory against the Americans.
In its first episode, Taboo does what it can to make its mark through a healthy dose of stylization that functions to further define James and his purpose in returning to England. Unfortunately, none of the actual dialogue does much to complement the show’s style, and what we’re ultimately left with is a collection of scenes and conversations that will surely spark some interest in what’s going on without giving any concrete indication as to what we should be looking forward to.
Taboo has some secrets, and they’re probably going to be juicy as all hell, but Wright and the Hardy’s (new band name?) don’t have much to offer in the way of any substance right now, which poses a big problem. Taboo is only going to last eight episodes, and so far this first one hasn’t made much of a lasting impression. Hardy mumbles and grumbles his way through yet another character. And while the tension of his imposing presence slowly dissipates over the course of the first episode, nothing swoops in to replace it except the promise that “the rumors,” whatever they may be, might be true. We get flashes of James’ time in Africa, some hushed moments regarding the absence of his mother, and a strong indication that James has the power to converse with the dead, but time and time again the episode relies on the promise of big reveals without any follow through, which gets frustrating a lot sooner than intended.
This isn’t a bad show, nor is it as slow as some critics have claimed. It’ll definitely require a little patience at first, and this initial episode is a lot of bark and no bite, but the Hardy’s have dropped enough hints to keep things interesting. As long as we don’t get a repeat of this next week – in which every character spends their time talking about how intimidating James is while James walks around intimidating people – Taboo has an opportunity to become one of the year’s best shows by the end of its eight-episode run.
Episode Grade: B-