For decades, scripted TV shows fell neatly into familiar categories: Hour-long drama, half-hour sitcom, police procedural, etc. However, in the streaming era, shows are more likely to blend elements from a variety of disparate genres until they become difficult to categorize.
That’s definitely the case with Briarpatch, the new USA Network mystery-dramedy premiering Feb. 6. Rosario Dawson stars as Allegra Dill, a political fixer who returns to her small Texas hometown after her sister Felicity, a police officer, is unexpectedly killed. But after digging into her sibling’s death, Allegra slowly begins to uncover a conspiracy that seems to encompass the entire town.
That superficial description doesn’t begin to do justice to the show’s ambition. Part quirky noir, part political thriller, part David Lynchian dive into small town weirdness, Briarpatch is as difficult to pin down as the identity of Felicity’s killer. Based on a novel by Ross Thomas, the show was created by Andy Greenwald, who is moving behind the scenes after years working as a well-respected critic and podcaster.
One might be able to guess his background given the show’s aspirations and influences. Greenwald is pulling from so many sources, the show’s story feels a little disjointed in the early going, despite its strong sense of style and place. But as the audience gets comfortable with its unusual tone, Briarpatch settles into an addictive rhythm, one where the show’s central mystery is only part of its appeal.
The biggest selling point for Briarpatch might be the oddball supporting characters. Brian Geraghty is excellent as a cop whose complicated home life is hidden behind a beaten-down demeanor, while Edi Gathegi plays a lawyer whose resignation and wariness are a nice contrast to Dawson’s intense determination. But it’s Jay R. Ferguson — best remembered as Stan on Mad Men — who makes the biggest impression. As an arms dealer with a sketchy history and a smile as wide as Texas, Ferguson steals every scene he’s in, to the point that he deserves serious Emmy consideration.
It takes several episodes for Briarpatch to start showing its cards, but once its mysteries and characters come into focus, it’s as entertaining as anything USA Network has done in recent years (perhaps that’s because Sam Esmail, creator of Mr. Robot, is an executive producer). Salty, savory, and spicy, the exact flavor of the show is difficult to pin down, but it’s nevertheless delicious.
Briarpatch premieres Thursday, Feb. 6 at 10pm ET on USA Network. Episodes will also be available the following day on Sling On-Demand.