Talk about a binge watch! “The Tourist,” on HBO Max in a blast of six, one-hour episodes, is a ferocious thriller that’s also ferociously funny. Starring Jamie Dornan as an Irishman suffering amnesia in the Australian outback, the series is—to recoin a phrase—must-see TV.
The plot kicks in hard in Episode 1 as Dornan drives down a dusty road with a monster truck on his tail. Waking up battered and bruised in a hospital, he can’t even remember his name. Known only as “The Man” until the end of Episode 2, The Man—like Guy Pearce in “Memento”— must put together the puzzle of his life with crucial pieces missing.
“The Tourist” relentlessly keeps you hanging on. In the book world, they’d call it unputdownable. Each episode of the script by Jack and Harry Williams (“The Missing”) ends in a cliffhanger that whips you into the next episode. Forget about sleep.
It’s clear that Chris Sweeney (who directed episodes one to three) and Daniel Nettheim (who helmed the other half) have seen a lot of Coen brothers movies, especially “Fargo” and “Raising Arizona” with their deliciously deadpan blend of mirth and menace. If you’re going to borrow inspiration, why not swipe from the best.
And Dornan, free from the cartoonish excess of the “Fifty Shades of Gray” trilogy, carries the whole thing with his starshine and burgeoning talent as an actor in “The Fall” and “Belfast.” Dornan is so good, you’ll follow him anywhere, which is just what “The Tourist” needs.
Dornan finds a perfect partner in Aussie dynamo Danielle Macdonald as Helen Chambers, a traffic cop with ambitions to rise in the ranks. The sweetness of Macdonald’s funny, touching and vital performance brings a nurturing humanity to the evil-doings surrounding her.
Can the diet-obsessed Helen, stuck with a controlling fiancée (Greg Larsen), discover herself by helping The Man recover his memory? Their attraction, repped by a burrito emoji, brings heart to a series that aims to blow the doors off with shocks and exploding violence.
For instance, there’s the dude who keeps calling The Man while buried alive in a secret grave? And why does the detective inspector, played to the hilt by Damon Herriman, seem less reliable than the gangsters and drug dealers who occupy the periphery of the episodes?
Truly terrifying is the best way to describe Ólafur Darri Ólafsson as Billy, the hulking American cowboy who drove The Man off the road and yet keeps comparing everyone he meets to his beloved mother. The scene between Billy and Helen will have you biting your nails to the quick.
And what of Shalom Brune-Franklin (“Line of Duty”) as Luci, the flirt who meets The Man at a diner that explodes minutes after they leave it. Luci volunteers to help The Man chase down his past. Or is she hiding something. Hint: Everyone in “The Tourist” is hiding something.
There’s no way I’ll spoil the fun by telling you who’s hiding what. Packed with high-voltage suspense and twists you don’t see coming, “The Tourist” also poses tangled questions about the nature of identify. You can tell The Man is afraid of what he might learn about himself.
Put yourself in his place, which is exactly what “The Tourist” wants you do. It’s one of the reasons this thrill-a-minute series has the staying power to haunt your dreams. The final episode is open-ended enough to suggest there might be a Season 2. Count me in.