The Consultant review: Christoph Waltz chills in brilliantly absurd thriller
The best thing about this well-paced comedy-thriller is how utterly ludicrous it is.
Watching The Consultant made me think of Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love. Don't get me wrong, the two projects are nothing alike, they're completely different in every way you look at them.
However, watching Prime Video's new comedy-thriller, the casting of Christoph Waltz in the central role proved immediately reminiscent of how canny Anderson had been in casting Adam Sandler in that film.
He saw that Sandler's deranged comic performances in films such as Billy Madison could be turned on a dime to be unsettling, and that his brand of humour perfectly represented the well-known adage that horror and comedy are two sides of the same coin.
Of course, it's not that Waltz, known for his terrifying presence, hasn't done comedy before. His performances in both Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds both had darkly comedic edges to them, and of course who can forget Horrible Bosses 2? Wait, everyone?
But in spite of these turns laced with comedy, this feels like the funniest he's been and the first time we've seen the perfect blend of his talents. Waltz is playing his role in The Consultant completely straight and it's not that he suddenly breaks out of this to give some quippy retort.
It's that he is both chilling and hilarious simultaneously. Everything he does can be viewed through both lenses, just like Sandler's work in Punch-Drunk Love.
So Waltz is utterly excellent here... but you knew that already. What of the show as a whole?
The Consultant is Prime Video's new somewhat under-the-radar comedy-thriller, arriving without much fanfare despite its killer central casting and behind-the scenes talent (the first episode is directed by WandaVision's Matt Shakman).
Waltz stars as Regus Patoff, a mysterious consultant who is hired to improve the business at app-based gaming company CompWare. However, his mysterious background, unnerving behaviour and extreme demands soon turn the lives of CompWare's employees, most notably Craig (Nat Wolff) and Elaine (Brittany O'Grady), upside down.
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First things first, I had a blast with The Consultant, with the first reason being its run time - the series is a brisk, economically-paced affair, with eight easily digestible half-hour episodes meaning, for the most part, it lives up to the idea of 'all killer, no filler'. It may be a commonplace format for sitcoms, but this reminds you why more TV should be crafted this way.
Next is the supporting cast. Nat Wolff and Brittany O'Grady prove to be a likeable, engaging duo, with terrific chemistry. Wolff's Craig in particular is put through the wringer, and he manages to bring to life a character who is intelligent but lazy, emotional but snarky and deeply self-centred, and still make us root for him.
Meanwhile, O'Grady carries most of the show's emotional weight as the one consistently trying to keep the ship together. She goes on quite the journey, but thanks to a fine performance her later actions do still track with the character O'Grady has built.
Like Waltz, the pair play everything completely straight and the show is all the better for it. In fact, I can imagine viewers going into this show thinking of it as a thriller, watching the entire run, and still being none-the-wiser about the comedy part.
This wouldn't necessarily ruin the experience, but watching it this way would be to miss most of what makes it special. Sure, the early shocks are thrilling, the confrontations between Patoff and the employees are tense and it does generally keep you on your toes.
But I have no qualms about saying that the ending does leave something to be desired when it comes to pay-off. If you went into this series purely for the suspense and the puzzle at the centre of it, you may walk away feeling somewhat short-changed.
This is to the show's detriment, of course it is, but because of the surprising tone, the fast pace and the consistently entertaining energy, for me it didn't prove to be its downfall.
What makes this series special is how truly, spectacularly wild it is. The whole thing is absolutely ridiculous, from the opening shock-factor gambit to the cackle-worthy final credits (seriously, stick around for them).
It's not a series filled with jokes, just an overriding preposterousness which makes even the darkest sequences or the smallest of Waltz's mannerisms amusing.
If you spend the entire run trying to piece things together, you're doing it wrong. Equally, if you're here for the corporate satire (and don't get me wrong, there is plenty of it - the whole consultancy profession gets a serious drubbing), then you're doing it wrong.
This show is at its best when you let it show its cards in its own time, and then laugh at the sheer brazenness of it holding up six Jacks.
That might not be for everyone. But with episodes this bite-sized, a cast this charming and a central performance this captivating, you really can't go wrong with giving the first episode a go and judging your appetite for the tone.
In the stacked history of workplace-centred shows, The Consultant may not be intricately crafted on the level of Severance or uproarious on the level of The Office - but the sheer ridiculousness of it won me over fast.
You may find yourself wondering why CompWare's staff stick around despite Patoff's treatment of them, but if you're anything like me, you'll be sticking around too, just to see what this absurd series has up its sleeve next.
All eight episodes of The Consultant arrive on Prime Video on Friday 24th February 2023. Try Amazon Prime Video for free for 30 days.
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