Everyone has had a bad boss, and that comes with its own set of challenges since being perceived and treated negatively doesn’t necessarily translate to poor performance. An even trickier situation is the introduction of new management, where a long-established rapport and proven track record with a supervisor who has been replaced may be instantly forgotten. Just how much that changes a workplace experience varies, and the results aren’t usually as sinister as in Prime Video’s new comedic thriller The Consultant.
This half-hour series opens with the murder of the CEO of CompWare, which makes video games. The late boss’ assistant, Elaine (Brittany O’Grady), and Craig (Nat Wolff), a coder, are the employees who experience the questionable transformation of the company once the charismatic, mysterious Regus Patoff (Christoph Waltz) arrives. Declaring himself the trusted confidante and fixer of the deceased, Patoff exhibits a bizarreness that borders on alarming, causing Elaine and Craig to investigate and try to learn who he really is.
The Consultant is based on Bentley Little’s 2016 novel of the same name. Its hi-tech workplace setting is instantly recognizable from any number of companies that stress the value of open spaces and collaboration yet rarely actually take the time to invest in employees’ individual growth and success. It’s exactly the kind of office setting where someone could work diligently for years and have their entire list of accomplishments erased upon the arrival of a new person in charge with no institutional memory. Think of it as a serious (but inferior) version of Silicon Valley.
Yet there’s much more going on here, and not all of it works. Waltz is a two-time Oscar winner particularly because he’s so good at chewing scenery. His turns in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained gave him excellent material and dialogue to work with, and he responded in kind. In this case, unfortunately, it’s not nearly as sophisticated or biting, but Waltz is doing the same thing, which at times is entertaining and at others feels like too much. Could Patoff really exist? It doesn’t feel like he’s anything close to real, a concept far too stretched out to be believable, even if Waltz is still sometimes fun to watch.
The series also gives a spotlight to two young actors who give as much as they can to the roles. O’Grady has already anchored series like Star and Little Voice, and contributed to a terrific season one ensemble in the wildly popular The White Lotus. She portrays Elaine in a straightforward manner, driving to work at 3am and recording a video to upload to her iCloud in case something happens to her, and also shows how she’s able to take advantage of her situation, promoting herself to an imagined and vague role when Patoff takes an interest in her. Wolff, a child star from The Naked Brothers Band, infuses a sense of sincere frustration into Craig, who believes that he knows best when it comes to code and that the higher-ups never take the time to truly listen to him.
The simultaneous release of all eight episodes of season one means that interested audiences will have an easy time racing through all of it, especially since each episode runs approximately thirty minutes. Yet a viewer’s enjoyment level will depend heavily on their ability to suspend all disbelief and take Patoff and this situation at face value, and to find something worth uncovering at the end of the rabbit hole. This show casts a wide net and hopes that some of its elements stick, but ultimately it isn’t able to narrow down its focus and find a compelling central arc that doesn’t feel hopelessly and needlessly exaggerated for dramatic effect.
All eight episodes of The Consultant are now streaming on Prime Video.