Anything that Christoph Waltz touches turns to gold. But that might only be partially true for his latest series, The Consultant, for which Waltz is both star and executive producer. Created by Tony Basgallop and based on Bentley Little‘s novel of the same name, The Consultant is a twisted, unnerving tale of corporate mystery, featuring yet another demented character for Waltz’s oeuvre. Yet the Academy Award-winner’s usual brilliance isn’t enough to keep The Consultant from becoming a disappointing mess with no narrative direction.
After the shocking termination of gaming company CompWare’s CEO, coder Craig (Nat Wolff) and creative liaison Elaine (Brittany O’Grady) are left wandering among vacant cubicles, hoping to salvage something. Enter Waltz’s Regus Patoff, literally striding over meaningless office items left behind by departing employees, his rigid and ominous demeanor thrown off when he needs a startled Craig and Elaine to help him walk up the stairs. Regus’ stilted introduction is just the beginning of lies a confusing twisted game of manipulation, one that by the end of the series just…fizzles out.
To its great detriment, The Consultant doesn’t lean into the mystery of Waltz’s sadistic character, despite always implying that it’s about to do so. Regus never lives up to the expectations that The Consultant establishes – it turns out that his presence at CompWare was prompted by the previous CEO’s murder at the hand of a child. From there, the series builds an air of violent danger around Patoff, but there’s never any narrative payoff. And casting Waltz in a role he’s so clearly meant to play but not using him to his full capability is like driving a Porsche like a safety car. Aside from a few amusing quips, Regus Patoff is simply too underdeveloped a character for an actor of Waltz’s talent and charisma.
Beyond Waltz, The Consultant does nothing of real merit. It can’t decide whether it wants to be a corporate thriller á la Severance or something far more mystical. This identity crisis leads The Consultant to lose its own plot after the first episode. O’Grady’s and Wolff’s characters go in narrative circles, never revealing anything we didn’t already know about them. Their personal ambitions become clouded by the mist of unnecessary mysteries – The Consultant kicks up a lot of dust to cover its escape, but when the dust settles, it’s still standing right there. Why was Patoff financing prosthetic bones made out of gold (aside from the obvious metaphor)? What happened to the woman we meet at the bar who is clearly associated with the body part experiments? What was the point? If you assume these questions will get answered, I’m sorry to report that they do not.
The hodgepodge of underdeveloped tropes is somewhat masked by the mysterious characterization of Patoff. By The Consultant‘s end, though, you’re too bored even to care who he is. Waltz can deliver lines like he came up with them on the spot. His commitment to the role should be noted – especially with a storyline as weak as this one. And now I wish I could see him in do something completely different than what we’re used to from him. More than once, Waltz has portrayed a character of this sort: a morally dubious, sometimes blatantly sadistic, sarcastic asshole. He even won his first Academy Award for Hans Landa in Inglorious Bastards. Is it too much to ask to see Waltz play a lonely widow who learns to love again in a soft romance, something like In the Mood for Love?
The Consultant ends up being a tepid execution of what could’ve been a good idea. It hasn’t got enough bite; it slips grasping for what could’ve been. This series may be for you if you’re bored on a Sunday afternoon and Christoph Waltz is one of your favorite actors. Or if you’re a glutton for disappointment. I can’t say The Consultant‘s audience isn’t out there somewhere.