Entertainment Television

AMC's ‘The Son’: Pierce Brosnan straddles a barbed-wire world as he returns to TV

By Bill Harris, Special to Postmedia Network

Pierce Brosnan stars in AMC's "The Son." (AMC photo)

Pierce Brosnan stars in AMC's "The Son." (AMC photo)

I strongly believe in something that I call the “universal jerk theory.”

It goes like this: If we accept that all people from around the world are created equally, then that encompasses both the good and the bad.

So what percentage of people do you think are, inherently, jerks? You'll get quite a debate, I suppose. But just to make the point, let's say that it's, I don't know, 17%.

For me, what that means is, in any group of humans – ethnic, religious, territorial, political, whatever – 17% of them will be jerks, if placed in similar sociological situations of either advantage or disadvantage.

My longstanding “universal jerk theory” came front-of-mind, in a good way, while I was watching The Son, a new historical-fiction drama series starring Pierce Brosnan that debuts April 8 on AMC.

The Son, based on a novel of the same name by Philipp Meyer, jumps back and forth in time to tell a panoramic story of a harsh era along the ever-simmering border between Texas and Mexico.

In 1915, Eli McCullough (Brosnan) is a family patriarch and successful cattle rancher who is trying to transition into the newly developing oil business, despite uncertainty and threats and violence and doubters, some of whom live in his own household.

But in 1849, we see what happens to the young Eli (Jacob Lofland) and how it shapes his harsh and cutthroat world view. While I'm not going to reveal anything that will ruin significant surprises for you, I'm about to discuss general plot details, so I'll issue a SPOILER ALERT here.

Early in The Son, we see how the young Eli's settler family is massacred by Native Americans. Eli is taken prisoner, essentially to work as a slave. And this is where I actually was glad to see my “universal jerk theory” coming to life. Not that I'm cheering for cruelty, but merely for the sake of fairness.

Some of the Native Americans are quite cruel to the young Eli. Why? Because they're human beings. And when any group of human beings has power, a percentage of those human beings will be jerks. They're cruel because they can be.

I was pleasantly surprised to see The Son veering away from the simplifications of standard modern historical storytelling, which tends to portray practically every white European as a horrible person, and practically every Native American as a noble hero, with nothing in between.

“That's Dances with Wolves,” said The Son's executive producer, Kevin Murphy.

“That's wonderful to hear that you got that. We really wanted to make it clear that there are no good guys and bad guys. We're much more interested in exploring Western civilization. Yes, largely (the United States), because it's a very American story, but I think it's also a wider North American story, a South American story, both continents.”

And if you boil it all down, it was about one thing, according to Brosnan.

“All over land,” Brosnan said. “Land and boundaries. What you have, I want, and this is how I'm going to get it.

“It was brutal times, and Eli is borne out of brutality and savagery. By the time we meet him (as an older man), he has lost three families. So they went hammer-and-tongs at each other, the white folk, the Mexican folk, the Indian folk.”

Brosnan, of course, is the name that initially will draw the most eyeballs and attention to The Son. Having spent the past several decades concentrating on movies – including his tenure as James Bond – the veteran actor hasn't been a regular on a TV series since Remington Steele, which aired from 1982 to 1987.

“I had been actively looking to go back to TV, because it's such potent, fertile ground now," Brosnan said. “Last summer came along, and I thought I was going in one direction, to make a movie in Russia, which fell apart. And I said to my agent, 'I don't want to sit on my ass all summer, I want to work.' He said, 'Well, you've just been offered this role, Eli McCullough in The Son.' ”

Sam Neill originally had been cast, but he dropped out, citing personal reasons.

“All the players (the creative team beind The Son) had a strong pedigree," Brosnan said. "That Philipp Meyer was going to be at the helm was an added attraction and an incentive to do it. Kevin Murphy as a showrunner has had great credentials. AMC is a classy outfit and they've acquitted themselves grandly on the world stage of TV and production value. So it was an easy yes.

“The book was such a rich Bible of story and nuance. And The Western has always been appealing.”

Perhaps the Western always has been appealing to Brosnan, but in modern times it's touch-and-go in terms of wider success. Is The Son, airing on Saturdays, apt to get a bigger audience than the recently concluded Hell on Wheels?

In addition to Brosnan and Lofland, The Son also stars Henry Garrett as Eli’s son Pete; Sydney Lucas as Pete's daughter Jeannie; Jess Weixler as Pete's wife Sally; David Wilson Barnes as Eli's other son Phineas; Carlos Bardem as Eli's wealthy Spanish neighbour Pedro Garcia; Paola Nunez as Pedro's daughter Maria; Zahn McClarnon as Comanche war chief Toshaway; and Elizabeth Frances as Prairie Flower.

In some ways, The Son is about the history of human nature. A certain percentage of us are jerks, always. And what do we traditionally fight over? Land.

“Barbed wire,” said Pierce Brosnan, shaking his head. “As soon as barbed wire came on the landscape, you put up barbed wire, it's savage, it hurts, it rips the skin.

"And it says, 'Stay out, I'm here, you're there.' ”

Twitter: @billharris_tv

billharristv@gmail.com

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BONDED WITH BOND

With both fists, Pierce Brosnan proudly embraces his legacy as James Bond.

Asked if Bond fans drive him nuts, Brosnan responded, “Oh no, Bond is with me all the way.”

So he never wants to tell people to quit asking him about his turn as the famous spy?

“Never, never, never – if I were to have that thought process, I would be fairly mangled,” Brosnan said.

“I celebrate it, I'm deeply proud of the work that I did on the film franchise. Daniel (Craig) is magnificent. And to be in the company of men like Sean (Connery), Roger (Moore), Daniel, Tim (Dalton), and George (Lazenby), even. There are people who think that George Lazenby was the best Bond ever. So they have it.

“It was a glorious time in my life, and continues to be so, because of that work. It has allowed me to go off and make my own films, be a producer, come back to TV with this body of work behind me, and an audience and a following. So no. You always celebrate higher ground.”

Brosnan is starring in a new TV show on AMC called The Son, which debuts April 8. It's the first time he has been a regular on a television series since Remington Steele, which aired from 1982 to 1987.

In an era when many TV shows from the past are being revived, Brosnan said there's nothing in the works with regard to Remington Steele, as far as he knows.

“No, no, that was discussed years ago, we did talk about it, but nothing ever happened,” he said. “No one has mentioned it to me.”

I admitted to Brosnan that back in the day, I had a crush on his Remington Steele co-star, Stephanie Zimbalist.

“Stephanie, yes, Stephanie, she and I are still good friends,” Brosnan said with a smile. “We still talk to each other and see each other. Sadly, we see each other at memorials for friends that have fallen by the side. Nature has a wonderful way of softening you up to death.”