Friday, February 24, 2023

The Consultant, on Prime

Much to their surprise, the employees of this mobile gaming company will have to return to the office, whether they like it or not. Regus Patoff, the corporate consultant now calling the shots is not exactly old school, but he certainly does not care what people think of him. He might even pull their accounts back into the black, but it could cost more than their corporate culture in creator Tony Basgallop’s eight episode The Consultant, adapted from Bentley Little’s novel, which premieres today on Prime.

Elaine Hayman assumed her boss’s unexpected death would also mean the demise of CompWare, but then Patoff shows up a few days later with a contract signed by the late Sang Woo, giving him complete operating authority. At his first company meeting, everyone logging-in remotely is given one hour to come into the office or they are fired. Patoff also threatens to pink-slip any employee he deems foul-smelling. He never appears to leave the office, where he constantly demands Hayman meet him at unprofessionally early hours. Yet, he always seems fresh and immaculately dressed.

The clever thing about the early episodes is the ambiguity surrounding Patoff. His name is revealed to be an alias right from the start, but his strategies are not always utterly irredeemable. In fact, the Mephistophelean consultant is open to new game pitches from frustrated staffers like Craig Horne, Hayman’s former office hook-up whom she still keeps flirting with, despite his engagement to the decidedly Catholic and un-slackerly Patti. However, as Patoff pushes the company to launch Horne’s unlikely game concept, he forces everyone around him to make Faustian bargains, especially Hayman.

The Consultant cannot really be called a “workplace” comedy or drama, because CompWare is not a proper workplace, at least not until Patoff shows up. Unfortunately, Patoff’s potential for creative destruction eventually dissolves into predictably sinister and not particularly logical villainy in the later episodes.

Frankly, it is like Basgallop’s adaptation just implodes. For a while, Hayman and Horne sleuth out bizarre hints to Patoff’s backstory, but none of that intriguingly weird material pays off at the end. Even more troublingly, there are times when the character of Patti seems to be targeted for manipulation out of a desire to see a Roman Catholic corrupted, which constitutes religious bigotry (for instance, she has fantasy-delusions involving the confessional booth).

It is a shame that such a strong start eventually runs off course and crashes. The episodes, around thirty-five minutes each, are initially highly bingeable and promise mystery and intrigue at an unusually weird level. Christoph is perfectly cast as Patoff, delivering each verbal barb with gleefully sly understatement. He might be a monster to work for (literally), but it sure looks like he enjoys his job.

Brittany O’Grady and Nat Wolff are also surprisingly engaging as the non-couple trying to piece together Patoff’s secrets. Their chemistry, charged with toxic sexual attraction, geeky gamer enthusiasm, and entitled Millennial resentment sort of works. Juan Carlos Cantu also has a great guest-shot as Frank Florez, a jeweler with a story to tell. That is why it is so frustrating to see all their good set-up work wasted with a disappointingly flat and conventional finish.

It is a shame to not recommend a series that starts so promising, but that is the case with
The Consultant. Patoff would not appreciate its return on viewers’ time investment. However, if you are a serial starter who rarely finishes series, you could very well enjoy the odd mysterious vibe of the first half of the initial season order. You’ve been warned, so proceed with informed caution when The Consultant starts streaming today (2/24) on Prime.