The Comey Rule is a bland attempt at decoding politics between a newly-elected Donald Trump and ex-FBI Director James Comey

The Comey Rule, currently streaming on Voot Select in India, is a political drama television miniseries, based on the book A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by former FBI director James Comey.

Pradeep Menon October 22, 2020 14:12:18 IST
The Comey Rule is a bland attempt at decoding politics between a newly-elected Donald Trump and ex-FBI Director James Comey

Do we still remember Hillary Clinton’s email fiasco, or did that happen an alternate timeline ago?

This harks back to when a Donald Trump victory in the last US presidential election was at best a glorified long shot, yet the people of America were itching for a reason to not cast their vote in favour of the first female presidential candidate on a major party ticket.

And then, FBI’s director at the time, James Comey, left his indelible impression on the affair, ostensibly changing the course of the election with merely days to go before American voters engaged in a scheduled, peaceful, constitutional overthrow of their government.

Showtime’s two-part limited series The Comey Rule (streaming in India on Voot Select) attempts to go behind the scenes, a little before and a little after the US election presidential election in 2016, through Comey’s perspective. Based on his own book A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership, the series does reveal a few key details of note that were perhaps not commonly known, yet it largely plays out as an emotional blame-shifting exercise to make viewers believe that Comey did what he did because he had to choose between the devil’s rocks and a hard place at the bottom of the deep blue sea. (It’s 2020; we don’t language anymore.)

Written and directed by Billy Ray, the two feature-length parts are separated by the event with which American polity finally devolved into the reality show it was always threatening to become - Trump’s win. The first part thus looks at the FBI’s investigation - under Comey’s leadership - into various matters pertaining to the election, while the second part looks at Comey’s fraught relationship with the newly-elected, reinvented reality show star.

The two key characters in the story - Comey and Trump - are portrayed by two fine actors - Jeff Daniels and Brendon Gleeson, which holds the show together for the most, though largely it is the anticipation of the Comey/Daniels - Trump/Gleeson matchup that does that, instead of any actual merit in the show’s writing and craft.

Jeff Daniels’ Comey is a drab version of his own Will McAvoy of The Newsroom; indeed the former FBI Director seemed to spend much of his time wallowing in self-righteousness, brandishing his political leanings as a shield for his actions, going out of his way to make a personal connection with everyone who came across his path, often sermonising about the virtues of duty and leadership when he could. Much of Daniels’ portrayal seems like a bland déjà vu, a watered-down Aaron Sorkin-esque attempt with all of his bluster and none of his bite.

While I haven’t read the book on which the series is based, his character in the show suffices to draw the conclusion that Jim Comey was simply too smug to admit to his own incompetence. Everyone faces difficult choices, especially people in positions of power. The ones who aren’t relegated to the trash cans of history are the ones who usually come up with creative solutions for impossible situations.

Comey simply failed to avert a problem, tried his best to appear neutral instead of attempting to decipher what’s best for his case and eventually decided that a tell-all book was the best way to have a semblance of a legacy, apart from being ‘the guy that made Clinton lose’. (And even that speaks to his own delusions, because his actions as FBI boss happened to be simply one of many factors that impacted the outcome of the election, most likely a minor one.)

In comparison, Brendan Gleeson’s turn as Donald Trump - an easy guy to satirise but a difficult character to play - is an unputdownable one, not necessarily in the best of ways. Donald Trump seems to live and talk extemporaneously, a stream-of-consciousness cocktail made up of everything wrong with capitalism and politics today. He seldom completes a cohesive thought, rarely eschews theatrics, and almost never leaves you without a distinctly unpleasant aftertaste.

Gleeson - despite his best efforts at channeling the near-affable, incoherent sleaziness of the self-aggrandising President - ends up imparting him with a modicum of gravitas and sangfroid. I’ll admit, we can never know for sure how Trump is in a one-to-one interaction with another human in the absence of a camera, but surely he isn’t as comprehensible and borderline equanimous as Gleeson ends up making him.

It begs the question: will it ever be possible, for any actor at all, to portray Donald Trump as an actual character, in a manner that does justice to his ‘unique’ (for want of a better word) personality?

Over its three-hours-plus runtime, The Comey Rule never really sinks in to the people at the heart of the story, relegating itself to facts, events and opinions of the titular character. It desperately tries to make you sympathetic towards Comey, but fails almost as much. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the show, then, is merely the act of waiting for Trump to show up.

Watch the trailer here:

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