Although he had to take a break from filming to treat his lymphoma, Bridges brings an imminent physical presence to the show, which airs Thursday at 10 p.m. on FX and Friday on Hulu. Chase has lived his days restfully – and, as the series makes clear, urinates several times a night as the titular character – but when he has to take on the various killers on his trail, he’s still witty and brawny, even if the results involve pain and moaning. Bridges makes Chase a worthy action hero whose true dominance comes from always being one step ahead of his pursuers, whose decades of experience are a plus. He also benefits from his two intensely trained Rottweilers, which are valuable assets to him and, being very good dogs indeed, for show.
Bridges is matched on the seven-episode drama by a solid cast, including John Lithgow, Alia Shawkat and Amy Brenneman, who each shine. Lithgow is an FBI bigwig named Harold Harper who is either Chase’s enemy or longtime supporter – or a bit of both – and he keeps the cards close to his chest as the nature of their story gradually emerges. . He and Bridges aren’t acting partners in the four episodes made available for review — Harper’s in DC, Chase is busy being sued — especially since they serve as two magnetic poles of the narrative. Harper seems to be the villain disturbing Chase’s peace, but the truth is, of course, probably much murkier, especially as we see Chase kill a few people without a hint of remorse. His instincts for self-protection are overwhelming.
Brenneman is extraordinary as a bitter divorcee dragged on the run with Chase. I’m not sure his scene-by-scene motivations are well defined in the script, but Brenneman makes it work anyway. Is she in love? Is she a victim? None of this is clear, which makes his performance all the more interesting. And Shawkat is particularly memorable as a shrewd FBI agent and Harper’s protege. She is always a treat to watch. Add a Joel Gray cameo and you have plenty of chops to admire.
Considering all the talent, you can also expect a stellar storyline from “The Old Man,” as our weary but vigorous veteran flees his past.
Alas, you’ll get a sometimes frustrating story that’s both convoluted and, in some ways, simplistic at the same time. Based on the 2017 novel by Thomas Perry, it aims for the tense international thrills of “Homeland,” but it gets bogged down in the very slow emergence of the backstory that drives the action in the present. There are some surprising twists when Chase is on the road, and these are satisfying. But the story of Chase’s experiences during the 1980s as an agent in Afghanistan seems thin and, in flashbacks (with Bill Heck as young Chase), a little easy. The more you learn about the events of the 1980s, the more questions you will have.
The actors, however, make it all interesting. In their hands is a contemplative and ever-observable view of the past, its ubiquitous presence, and the moral calculations it demands.
THE OLD MAN
With: Jeff Bridges, John Lithgow, Amy Brenneman, Alia Shawkat, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Bill Heck
On: FX, Hulu. Thursdays at 10 p.m. on FX; Friday on Hulu