Fridays are for TV in my new blog plan, so today I’m choosing to recommend Counterpart. This two-season, 20-episode series originally aired on Starz and was a totally unique and compelling thriller starring J. K. Simmons, Olivia Williams, and Harry Lloyd.
The story takes place in Berlin, where J. K. Simmons’ character, Howard Silk, works earnestly in a dreary job for a mysterious organization whose purposes are not immediately clear. Every day when he leaves work, Howard heads for the hospital, where his wife, Emily (Williams) is in a coma. One day, his bosses blindfold him and lead him into a secret room. When his blindfold is removed, he finds himself sitting across from someone who looks exactly like him (because he is also played by Simmons, of course), but who acts in a completely different and uncharacteristic way.
This is a parallel-universe type of science fiction, told with twist and turns that keep you guessing. Little pieces of a huge puzzle are gradually leaked to Howard (and to the viewers) as he bumbles his way through a confusing and bizarre set of circumstances. It’s hard to talk about this show without revealing spoilers, so let me just say that this is one show that I could not take my eyes off of, even for a second. It’s also the kind of show that bears repeated viewings. View the trailer for the first season if you want to know more.
J. K. Simmons has usually been one of those character actors that you see in lots of movies but you never really know his name. He won an Oscar for best supporting actor in the movie Whiplash, but most people know him as the Professor in the Farmers Insurance ads on TV. His portrayal of Howard as a mild-mannered office drone on one side of this drama and a cool and competent spy/hitman type on the other side is simply brilliant, in my opinion. It’s the kind of subtle, tour-de-force acting of a dual role that is so well-crafted you forget that it’s the same guy performing both roles. In my opinion, his performance rivals that of Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black – and that’s saying something! (I’ll bring up Orphan Black again soon.) Simmons has had a long and successful career on Broadway; his seasoned expertise commands the screen in this binge-worthy show.
With most TV series, I look for weak spots; there’s not a single weak spot that I can think of in this show. The supporting cast, especially Olivia Williams as Howard’s wife Emily and Harry Lloyd as Howard’s boss, Peter Quayle, are all superb. The bleakness of the city of Berlin adds to the sense of dread that hangs over the story, but Howard’s innate kindness keeps the viewer hopeful in spite of some pretty daunting odds. Check it out – I promise you’ll be hooked, so set aside some time for binging this one!