TV: The Consultant (Season 1)

It may be enough that The Consultant features Christoph Waltz, who brings his inimitable brand of unsettling quirkery to a promising, highly watchable series. But it’s also possible it relies too much on this central asset, because the first season doesn’t sustain its promising conceit through to a satisfying resolution. Launching with deliciously diabolical energy, this richly designed tale of amusing corporate horror hits an early stride before eventually losing focus.

It takes place at the Los Angeles headquarters of CompWare, a mobile technology firm that designs smartphone games. The employees are shocked when the company’s young founder/CEO, Sang (Brian Yoon), is gunned down by a disturbed fan. Sang’s death looks to be the end of the enterprise, but the next day, a mysterious consultant arrives: Regus Patoff (Waltz), who bears paperwork suggesting that, before his death, Sang hired Patoff to oversee the company. For most of CompWare’s employees, this means business as usual can resume—but there’s something, well, not right about Patoff, leading Sang’s ambitious assistant Elaine (Brittany O’Grady) and rakish coder Craig (Nat Wolff) to investigate. Their suspicions of Patoff certainly appear warranted, prompting them to resist his leadership, but his arrival also leads to unexpected professional opportunities for both of them, which throw them into conflict with their better judgment.

Based on a novel by prolific horror scribe Bentley Little, The Consultant hits the ground running, its polished credit sequence setting just the right comic-horror tone—which Waltz, in his effortlessly weird way, sustains brilliantly. Patoff couldn’t be a more Waltzian character, and his off-putting, shifty, sinister ways really drive the series forward with compelling questions. O’Grady and Wolff are charismatically flawed foils in opposition, giving the viewer relatable heroes to get behind. But the show’s true unsung hero may be the set, a gleaming, modern open-plan space full of glass and digital technology, which serves as a deceptively bright and shiny backdrop for creepy intrigue. Early episodes build compelling momentum as the investigation builds, suggesting a nefarious hidden agenda from Patoff that teases a deal-with-the-devil angle.

Alas, with every mystery box comes a conundrum: either demystify the mystery with truth, or spin frustrating wheels to sustain ongoing enigmas. The Consultant can’t quite decide which way to lean, so defaults to the latter—even as the ultimate episodes suggests a certain finality. The result is an ending that shuts the door forcefully without leaving a clear impression. It’s a shame, because the episodes are bracing and clever for much of the run, and the premise affords the writers an opportunity to effectively comment on the ethical compromises of professional ambition—a thematic focus on work culture that makes The Consultant something of a cousin to Severance, a similarly slippery genre series. An unexpected renewal might be worth following if it can better explicate Patoff’s tantalizing secrets, but as a standalone season of TV, it doesn’t fully pay off.

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