Undercover Brother

Timely. There’s no arguing that Showtime’s Emmy-nominated “Sleeper Cell” is timely, since it deals with terrorists in a post 9/11 period. But is this timely 10-hour miniseries really worth the time? Well, I guess it depends if you’ve got the time these days. If you watch it much later in the future, then it wouldn’t be timely then. Tic toc.

Darwyn al-Sayeed (a brooding Michael Ealy) is an American Muslim who works for the FBI. He’s an undercover agent who luckily gets recruited into a terrorist cell in Los Angeles. Darwyn encounters the devious ringleader Farik (Oded Fehr) and the cell’s assorted members: the friendly Bobby Habib (Grant Heslov), bitter Bosnian Ilija (Henri Lubatti), the arrogant Frenchman Christian (Alex Nesic), and all-American Tommy (Blake Shields). Working from within, Darwyn must bluff his way and report to his FBI contact (James LeGros). But it’s a tough job since Farik is a very secretive man who dodges questions. But it’s certain that a disastrous plan is approaching. Time is running out for Darwyn. Tic toc. Tic toc.

Timely. Being timely is the only great thing “Sleeper Cell” excels at. Despite the fresh current-events setting, it has nothing original to add. I admire that the creators want to give us something relevant, but they also aspire to give us an escapist thrill like the recent Emmy winner (woo-hoo!) “24.” It’s no doubt that the show can be both but “Sleeper Cell” lacks the skill and focus to pull off such an ambitious goal. If there’s anything that redeems the miniseries, it’s the respectful Muslim point-of-view. You begin to realize that 9/11 wasn’t only a war against America, but also a battle within the Islam religion. In that respect, “Sleeper Cell” brings something significant to the discussion table.

However, it’s hard to take “Sleeper Cell” seriously as a whole. I think the writers imagined a terrorist cell that was too convenient for plotting. I’m not convinced there was any research done on how terrorist cells operate. I find the ensemble of terrorists as deliberately too diverse, as if they were cast in a reality show. I guess it’s unrealistic if the cast was, you know, predominantly of Middle Eastern descents. And finally, there are two characters I didn’t like. The main villain (Fehr) is more of a stunt than human and Darwyn’s love interest (Melissa Sagemiller) is a time-filler nuisance. These aren’t exactly complains, but more of obstacles that could’ve made the series from meh to memorable. “Sleeper Cell” isn’t a lost cause though. It has stunning three episodes (out of ten) that hint at what the series is capable of achieving. Showtime is bringing it back. Hopefully, it will be better, but only time will tell. Tic toc.

Preferred Episodes: Scholar (4), Immigrant (7) and Intramural (8).

Grade: B

Michael Ealy, Oded Fehr, Grant Heslov, Henri Lubatti, Alex Nesic, Blake Shields, Melissa Sagemiller, and James LeGrosCreated by
Ethan Reiff
Cyrus Voris