Showtime's Miniseries 'The Comey Rule' Is Worth Watching for All the Famous Faces
Remember all these people from the news? They're back!
Beginning with a clip of Stephen Colbert comparing former FBI Director James Comey to Professor Snape from the Harry Potter series, Showtime's ripped-from-the-feed miniseries The Comey Rule immediately puts itself in a visual conversation with the media environment of this particularly dumb historical moment. Despite ostensibly offering an insider account, taking the viewer into the shadow-strewn halls of power and brightly lit rooms of the deep state, the two-part show, written and directed by filmmaker Billy Ray, can't escape the frenzied news cycle of Twitter threads, SNL sketches, and push notifications. Unsurprisingly, the show's premiere was upstaged by yet another blockbuster Trump story from the New York Times dropping hours before it aired. Reality moves faster than TV production.
The absence of juicy revelations, new tidbits to screenshot, or instances of hypocrisy to mock can make The Comey Rule, which rehashes the 2016 presidential election and its immediate fallout, look as appealing as a plate of stale leftovers. So, what makes it worth checking out? Famous faces, mostly. In addition to casting Jeff Daniels in the Comey role, twisting the principled blowhard persona he crafted during three seasons on HBO's The Newsroom, and Brendan Gleeson as Trump, who stays hidden -- Jaws-like -- until the second half, the show fills out the supporting roles, including all the loyal bureaucrats and scheming Trump cronies, with character actors that will send you scrambling to IMDB. As drama, it's often curiously rudderless; as #resistance kitsch, it's delightful.
Adapted from A Higher Loyalty, the non-fiction book penned by Comey himself following his very public dismissal from the federal law enforcement organization he devoted his life to, The Comey Rule has a hyper-real quality, lacing current events with the procedural tick-tock tension of prestige TV. Daniels plays Comey as the ultimate Boy Scout, found showily waiting in line in the FBI lunchroom and guilty of saying hokey things like "money is nice; stopping bad guys is better." He's not presented an antihero, looking into the mirror and agonizing over his bad behavior. Instead, righteousness serves as his armor, an attribute that Ray's often sharp script calls attention to in both playful and celebratory ways.
The agents and lawyers scurrying around Comey, introduced with text-on-screen so you know who is who, are often less confident in the man's actions, and Trump's appointees are equally suspicious of his motives. This is where the show's casting department really struts their stuff. In addition to the meta-masterstroke of recruiting Michael Kelly, who most viewers will remember from his turn as Doug Stamper on House of Cards, to play former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the show fills other parts with actors like Holly Hunter (Sally Yates), Jonathan Banks (James Clapper), Scoot McNairy (Rod Rosenstein), Peter Coyote (Robert Muller), Oona Chaplin (Lisa Page), William Sadler (Michael Flynn), and more. When Reno 911's Joe Lo Truglio shows up with white hair and tiny glasses as Jeff Sessions, try not to gasp.
Why is it so weirdly satisfying to see vaguely recognizable actors in these minor roles? Is it bleak? Funny? Hallucinatory? In some sense, the casting resembles a low-stakes, premium cable version of the same impulse that excites people about the prospect of Jim Carrey playing Joe Biden or Brad Pitt appearing as Dr. Fauci on SNL, fusing a fandom-driven political culture with a celebrity-obsessed media machine. Besides Comey and Trump, most of the characters in The Comey Rule are not well-known public figures. (I wouldn't know Reince Priebus if he knocked on my door.) Still, there's a feeling that you've entered an uncanny valley when you tune in, like someone accidentally crossed an episode of Billions with a Vox explainer. I couldn't look away.
In the second half, which shifts focus away from the Clinton email scandal, the emergence of Gleeson's Trump gives the series a jolt of energy. Compared to the other performances, Gleeson's Trump is a more vivid creation, a spray-tanned Godfather wannabe always looking for an angle. There will undoubtedly be other non-comedic Trump portrayals in the next decade as storytellers hoping to be the next Oliver Stone or Adam McKay look to reframe history and perhaps collect some Oscars on their journey. There might even be other Jeff Sessions in there. Hopefully they give Joe Lo Truglio a call.
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