Rabbit Hole review – Kiefer Sutherland’s fun new thriller is like 24 … but even wilder
At this point in Kiefer Sutherland’s career, the quality of his projects doesn’t really matter. Sutherland has developed a built-in fanbase (for transparency, I am one such built-in fan) who would quite happily watch anything he makes, so long as he’s slightly weary, slightly rushed and mutters to himself like the world very literally depends on it. Is this a coded way of saying that I wish 24 was still on TV? Why yes. Yes it is.
The good news about this new thriller, Rabbit Hole, is that it isn’t a million miles away from 24. Kiefer Sutherland plays John Weir, a corporate espionage expert who finds himself neck-deep in an enormous conspiracy. There are shadowy figures. There are characters guided through high-tension situations while wearing earpieces. There are moments where Kiefer Sutherland sees something catastrophic about to happen, but is too far away to stop it, so he just shouts “NO!”, and then it happens anyway. This is well-worn territory but, God, I want it fed to me like peeled grapes to a Roman emperor.
And there’s a version of Rabbit Hole where this is all that happens. It’s Kiefer Sutherland granite-jawed, lurching from crisis to crisis, singlehandedly trying to stave off disaster. The first episode certainly comes close to achieving that. Weir is essentially a paranoid spy who knows that someone is on to him, and he spends much of the episode shooting concerned glances into his rearview mirror. As it unfolds, you can feel yourself relaxing into it, the same way you’d relax into any old-fashioned network drama about a tough yet compromised protagonist. However – and I’m going to try my best to avoid spoilers – Rabbit Hole then turns on a dime and becomes completely and irreparably loopy.
Sutherland finishes the first episode pinballing between so many absurd cataclysms that it starts to feel like a prestige drama version of Mr Bean. There had been hints at this from the start – the cold open ends with Sutherland in confession, barking: “God? Maybe he can tell me WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON!!!” at what must presumably be a particularly disconcerted priest – but this is the point where the loopiness ramps up beyond all comprehension. And you know what? It’s great.
This is largely because – unlike 24, where all the stupid stuff happened because that show chewed up ideas like a threshing machine – Rabbit Hole seems to be doing all this purely for fun. There is an unmistakeable lightness here amid all the disaster. Sutherland’s Weir isn’t a fully fledged hero. He’s too frustrated and befuddled for that. He bickers. He wisecracks. He loses fights with teenage skateboarders. As such, Sutherland appears to be enjoying himself. And when, aside from that video of him flinging himself into a Christmas tree, has anyone ever been able to say that?
It helps that he’s surrounded by an incredibly game cast. Charles Dance (playing a character you’ll quickly be able to figure out thanks to some impressive flashback prosthetic work) is just as up for having fun as Sutherland. But what really supercharges the show is Meta Golding, an actor so far best known for a very small role in the Hunger Games films. Golding is astonishing here. Her character falls somewhere between “hostage” and “love interest”, which sounds wildly problematic on paper. But she plays it with such motormouthed ferocity that she pretty much walks away with every scene she’s in. Neither Sutherland nor Dance have ever had this much chemistry with another actor. She’s a real discovery.
If there is one criticism of Rabbit Hole, it’s that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. There are moments where it’s a loosey-goosey screwball comedy, and moments where it’s a full-bore action thriller. The overarching theme – a plot to bring down the US by systematically undermining its democracy – feels like it’s grasping to say something important about the state of the world. Tonally, it’s all over the place. If I had to guess, it feels like Rabbit Hole was created as one thing, and then got bashed around in development trying to accommodate everyone else’s idea of what it should be. As a result, it can be quite a formless watch at times.
But this is the sort of thing that can easily be ironed out. At its best, Rabbit Hole is 24 played for laughs, and perhaps that should be the focus for season two. There is going to be a season two, right?