You only need to watch about 90 seconds of Taboo to realize that it obviously has Peaky Blinders‘ Steven Knight behind it. Give it another five minutes and it’s hard to keep from expecting Cillian Murphy to walk around a corner. For that show’s cult following, the sell is probably over with the trailer. If grimy period pieces that serve as showcases for the costume department and feature characters that give off an air that suggests they might start slaughtering people at any moment are your bag, you know all you need to.
Those who need more will find anything they might be looking for in Tom Hardy‘s eerie depiction of a man who returns from Africa to take over his father’s business. James Delaney is a man with a checkered past, who left for Africa ten years ago and spent much of that time presumed dead. He resurfaces for his father’s funeral, and quickly learns that his father was not only widely regarded as a rat bastard (which he already knew), but had made serious enemies of just about everyone with any sort of power. Contrary to how you might imagine that scenario continues, James seems to be of a mind to take things to a whole new level.
Among the problems facing James are his married half-sister, Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin), for whom he professes his continued love, and a tract of land he now owns which the East India Company, represented by Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce), really wants to get their hands on.
It doesn’t take for several people to be after James’ head, and whether he’s partially playing the role of mysterious madman from the Dark Continent, or he’s really a nutter, getting him out of the way isn’t going to be easy. It isn’t so much that the East India Company, and the resources Sir Strange can bring to bear, necessarily have a lot of trouble with crazy people, but a large lunatic is rather more troublesome in 1800’s London than you might guess… especially if he suddenly has a bit of cash.
Like Peaky Blinders, Taboo makes you feel like the production has hired out every living history museum in the country. Which is to say, there might be three other efforts in production just as out of view. It’s full immersion action and you’ll stagger yourself thinking about what’s involved if they have to do another take of some scenes. The irony of the sludge and grime is that this is probably the most gorgeous thing on television.
Hardy, who channels something not altogether different from his character in The Revenant, could be all alone and you’d still watch him do this all day. He gets to play off of some great actors/actresses in scenes that many actors would kill for a chance at, but you won’t care, because he’s that good. Franka Potente comes closest to stealing your attention, but even with her brothel flaunting its lazy, post-orgy morning at you, it’s only one more excuse to wonder just what the hell James Delaney is going to do.
Also like Blinders, the show’s best feature is its conversations. It isn’t even that it convinces you that they are realistic, but that it offers up characters so well that you could almost write the lines yourself. It’s so natural that it becomes like watching old friends.
The show opens slightly to the bad side of relaying all there is to establish, which slows things a bit, but it manages to reel you in by the end until you’ll feel almost as though you’ve been “to be continued” tricked. Then you’ll remember that shows are split into episodes, you aren’t watching a movie, and it isn’t cheating that you can’t binge everything, and you’ll move on. You’ll be really pissed still, because you’ve found your new favorite show and there’s a nagging feeling in the back of your head that six or seven seasons of this must exist somewhere, and you need to find them… but, you’ll move on.