It’s a shame that Jeff Bridges waited so long to star in a TV series — because he’s terrific in “The Old Man,” premiering Thursday, June 16 (10 pm) on FX.
“The Old Man” unfolds over seven episodes, allowing creators/writers Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine adequate time to unwrap a rich, absorbing, densely plotted narrative jam-packed with turns and surprises (the series is based on Thomas Perry’s bestselling novel ). That Bridges shot the series amidst life-threatening battles with cancer (Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) and COVID gives his performance an added edge.
Bridges, 72, stars in the multi-layered spy drama aided by an A-list cast including Amy Brenneman, John Lithgow, Joel Gray and Alia Shawkat. It’s the first regular series role in his long acting career, which includes a 2010 Oscar (“Crazy Heart”) and dates back to the syndicated series “Sea Hunt” (1958-60), starring his late father, Lloyd Bridges (and in which Jeff appeared a handful of times).
As the series opens we meet Dan Chase (Bridges), a creaky, crusty, 70something who lives alone with his two devoted Rottweilers, Dave and Carol, and putters around his house in upstate New York while dealing with the nagging, everyday effects of older age (frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom) and more serious issues — including a memory that’s not what it used to be. He’s concerned about his cognitive issues; five years earlier, he watched his late wife, Abbey (Hiam Abbass), battle advancing memory loss and dementia as she succumbed to Huntingdon’s disease, a progressive brain disorder. He also has a creeping feeling that he’s being watched, though he assures his grown daughter, Emily, that he’s just fine … but he’s not.
That much is clear after he shoots and kills an intruder who breaks into his house (with help from doggies Carol and David), staging the scene and telling the local cops that it was self-defense, and that he’s going to stay with family members . “They found me,” he tells Emily over the phone; we eventually learn that the break-in was part of a bigger plot, that Dan isn’t really Dan Chase, but a rogue CIA agent who went off the grid in 1987 and disappeared after killing people on behalf of an Afghani warlord, Faraz Hamzad , following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. His nickname there: “The Beast Who Eats Everything.”
Dan’s past also includes his dealings with Harold Harper (Lithgow), who, in the ’80s, was the CIA’s chief of station in Islamabad; he knew of Dan’s work with Hamzad and was complicit in covering it up. He’s now the FBI’s assistant director of counterintelligence and fears, with good reason, that his knowledge of what went down in Afghanistan will destroy his career — and maybe even claim his life as Hamzad seeks his revenge. “There’s no limit to the damage he’ll do or the things he’ll destroy,” Harold says of Dan. “This is not someone to underestimate.” Shawkat plays Harold’s devoted protege, Angela Adams, with EJ Bonilla as Waters, the CIA operative tasked with securing Dan — and who’s skeptical of Harold’s intentions.
Dan hits the road and ends up, for now, in rural Pennsylvania, renting a place from Zoe McDonald (Brennaman), a divorced mother of a teenaged son who’s battling her own demons (and her vindictive ex-husband). Zoe and Dan strike up a friendship that could grow into more …
Bridges, as mentioned, is solid in the lead role; he emanates a tangible world-weariness combined with the killer instinct that’s such a big part of his history while simultaneously (and unashamedly) adjusting to the realities of his ongoing health issues (often with dark humor), colored by his aforementioned real-life illnesses . Lithgow is Lithgow — he’s good in whatever he does — and Shawkat and Bonilla (“Bull,” “Unforgettable”) add two strong, believable characters to the mix.
“The Old Man” will travel down many different roads, with surprises and revelations lurking around every corner.
Be sure to enjoy the ride.