December 11, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Counterpart”


COUNTERPART:  Sunday 9PM on Starz, starting 1/21/18 – In the Queue

Tales of alternative earths are an increasingly popular form of fiction these days, possibly because our actual Earth is currently so difficult to handle.  Just as The Man In the High Castle runs the subgenre through tropes of old-time war movies, Starz’s new COUNTERPART (whose pilot the network ran as a “sneak” after the season finale of Outlander, more than a month before the official January 21 premiere) presents a sci-fi version of a Cold War espionage thriller.

In the Germany of our Earth, Howard Silk (JK Simmons) is a transplanted American bureaucrat at a mysterious agency, whose wife Emily (Olivia Williams) has been hospitalized in a coma since being hit by a car.  Howard’s job is to periodically sit in a small room on the other side of a glass wall from another man as they read cryptic phrases to each other.  He has no idea that his building is ground zero for a passageway discovered 30 years earlier that leads to Earth 2, which had been an exact duplicate of our version but whose events have begun to drift apart.  The man he speaks to comes from that other dimension, and their banal words are a code Howard can’t decipher.  For reasons that haven’t yet been made clear, an assassin known as Baldwin (Sara Serraiocco) has been coming across the border to commit murders, which embroils Howard when the man sent to stop her is his own doppleganger (Simmons again).  Baldwin’s next target, according to Howard 2, is Emily.

Counterpart‘s pilot, written by series creator Justin Marks and directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) is mostly concerned with laying out the general situation and the two Howards, one mild-mannered and the other an abrasive man of action.  As one would expect, there are intimations that the plot has twists to come, with possible traitors on the senior “fourth floor” of the intelligence complex, murmurs of political unrest on Earth 2, and with Howard 2 already having told at least one big lie about his life on the other side of the dimensional wall.  It remains to be seen whether there’s enough here to sustain a continuing series.

What clearly does work is the pleasure of watching Simmons in both of his roles and interacting with himself.  As with Tatiana Maslany and Orphan Black, Simmons brings such detail to his characterizations that one soon forgets about the technical challenges of these sequences and just sits back to enjoy his skill.  Tyldum shoots the pilot in shades of the kind of atmospheric gray we’ve come to associate with Lc Carre adaptations and the like, and he handles the hospital confrontation with Baldwin tensely, culminating in some explosive action.  Along with Williams, who has little to do in the opening hour, Ulrich Thomson of Banshee is around as a distrustful intelligence agent.

At first glance, Counterpart doesn’t seem destined to be a breakout hit for Starz (not on this Earth, anyway), but the combination of Simmons and a premise that can stretch in any number of ways suggests that it will be worth some more attention when it officially arrives in 2018.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."