Journalism … or, as Patrick Goldstein put it in his review for The New York Times, “a show set to the death of tradition, feminism and gonzo journalism.” That description may be apt in the first episode, in which Mort (Martin Freeman) fires his wife Rita (Saoirse Ronan) and arrests his son for misbehaving. But the tone turns quirky and erudite when it turns toward a parable about sons and inheritance.
The idea is simple and ingenious. An international corporation teeters on the brink of bankruptcy. Executive Peter (Henry Golding) is appointed CEO and has the sad job of agreeing with his father (Nicholas Hoult) and those around him that he must force out his beloved mother and burn through his own valuable pension to prop up the business in its last days. Tony Goldwyn, who plays Peter’s boss, Vincent Astor, deliberately and persuasively conducts a conversation with Mort as if he’s talking to his brother, who is none other than Walter (Hugh Jackman), Peter’s actual son. The idea is that the secret from Peter’s speech is buried deep within Walter, who, like Mort, is an exemplary parent and husband.
Meanwhile, Peter meets with his family and, clearly distraught, sees the situation for what it really is: an opportunity to be, as he sees it, the person responsible for his family’s future.
Mort does come around. Following a two-year relationship with Jane (Tatiana Maslany), he finds something he’s never had: a woman who’s not afraid to challenge him. The family tries to convince him that business needs fixing but that’s not what Mort’s about. He wants to be a healer, to fill a hole in Peter’s heart. Jane doesn’t love Mort, but neither did Rita, and in this pilot’s smartest scene she delivers a speech that won’t please his family, but is right for their lives: “We both don’t want to have children. We both think we can’t parent children. So you’ll be alone, and at least you’ll know that you gave it your best shot. But you’ll still be alone. And on your own. Your time will come but it won’t be nearly as long as ours.”
We’ll see how many episodes this family can keep up, but at the rate Mort changes, Walter, though a star, is a long way off the throne.