Kiefer Sutherland secured his place as America’s fictional hero with 24’s Jack Bauer.
There’s something about his portrayal that makes people feel comfortable imagining their life in his hands.
The new Paramount+ series Rabbit Hole will put that feeling to the test.
In Rabbit Hole, Sutherland plays John Weir, “a master of deception in the world of corporate espionage,” who is “framed for murder by powerful forces who have the ability to influence and control populations.”
There’s a lot to unpack in that series summary, and there’s even more to unpack as the series begins to unfold.
Instead of being America’s hero, John Weir must deconstruct events that led to his framing.
I’m not a fan of so many twists in a series that you can’t keep up or catch up to the narrative to understand what’s going on. But although Rabbit Hole is jam-packed with twists and turns and turns on the twists, the series goes to great lengths to show what occurred and why.
Even better, every sharp turn has a purpose, although it takes a little while to find out the whys behind the whats. The best I can describe it is how Guy Pearce’s Leonard Shelby had to challenge everything he believed to be true in Memento, piecing together his past in backward movements.
With Rabbit Hole, it’s not only John involved in the deconstruction, although he has a significant role to play in it. The idea seems to be to question everything because if you take it at face value, you’re missing what you need to know.
Rabbit Hole’s creators, John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, as well as Sutherland, note that the series pulls on classic thrillers from the 1970s, such as Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View, which feature individuals fighting against powerful entities that seek to destroy them.
What those movies do successfully that cannot be replicated for an episodic series is leaving the viewer without a full explanation. Those classic films left viewers without resolution, questioning their own lives in addition to the film’s ending.
If Rabbit Hole can’t commit to that open-ended outcome, it does allow viewers to question the real world and their place in it.
To do that successfully, we need to buy into the narrative and feel for the characters’ journies, and Rabbit Hole, through the first four episodes provided for Critics, does a good job of it.
There is a larger story at play that not only speaks to today’s world and the conspiracy theories that proliferate it but offers a more personal take as John questions the choices he made with the information he had at the time and how they influenced the trajectory of his life.
Doing that requires that John doesn’t walk alone, and the series introduces a cast of characters to help him parse what’s revealed and unearth clues that shake his foundation.
Walt Klink is onboard as an intern and antagonist with questionable loyalties, and Rob Yang portrays the man at the heart of the conspiracy whose murder John has been accused of committing.
Enid Graham plays FBI agent Jo Madi, who acts on behalf of the viewer as she commits to solving the mystery of John Weir while fighting her way back into the bureau’s good graces.
Meta Golding and Charles Dance play characters who can come into John’s life and help him focus on the greater forces hoping to destroy it, and James Butler Harner plays an ally named Valence, who unwittingly sets the events into motion.
Rabbit Hole sucks in viewers quickly, taking them on a wild ride that pays off incrementally with enough momentum to sustain the feeling that there is more than meets the eye.
It’s a fun romp that unfolds with sharp editing and cunning camera angles assisting in the festivities and a very healthy dose of humor.
John Weir may be up against powerful forces, but he’s got a comical streak, too. He’s the guy who sees his face on a jumbotron accused of murder and rolls his eyes at the annoyance of it, letting it roll off his back as he jumps into action.
That playfulness works well against the thrilling nature of his (and the world’s) predicament, and with the rate of curveballs thrown his way and deep emotional trauma from childhood, it’s as important to his survival as clearing his name.
The worst thing I can say about Rabbit Hole is that I’m skeptical that the pacing can continue with the same satisfaction as it begins. But instead of questioning it, I’ll sit back and enjoy the ride.
Rabbit Hole premieres with two episodes on Sunday, March 26, on Paramount+.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.