For anyone who has worked in a company that has hired a consultant, you understand the air of mystery they can possess. Outsiders who have been brought into the inner sanctum of a company to offer advice meant to improve it however they see fit. In the right conditions, so much unshackled power lies in their hands. Their presence alone can strike fear in an underperforming workplace.
This fear is taken to extremes in Amazon Prime Video’s The Consultant, a dark workplace comedy thriller that takes place at Compware, a gaming company struggling to meet its lofty goals. When their young genius CEO suddenly and shockingly meets his maker, the company is in dire need of help. Enter the titular consultant, Regus Patoff (Christoph Waltz) to save the day or at least turn some employees lives into a living hell.
On the outside the man does not come across as particularly threatening; possessing the looks of a well-dressed, sixty-something high school history teacher. But, as Waltz has proven time and again, looks can be deceiving as seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. He is one of those actors whom if I met face to face, his film persona would intimidate the hell out of me even if he is actually a very nice man.
Waltz’s on-screen reputation injects Patoff with ice in his veins and a poker face delivery needed to instantly put the office and the viewers on edge. He is shrouded in mystery – no one knows where he came from, where he goes, or exactly why he is there, besides to make the company profitable. The biggest question is, to what lengths will he go to do so?
It doesn’t take long for the workplace “horror” to creep in as Patoff establishes dominance in the most unorthodox ways. Following his arrival shortly after the gruesome death of the beloved CEO, Patoff openly begins smelling the employees one by one, in search of an aroma which he found unacceptable. When that is you introduction to a character, the skies the limit of where he goes. It is odd, it is funny, and demeaning all at the same time.
Patoff’s peering eyes pierce through the screen along with his oh so subtle smirk create an emotional disconnect from all that surrounds him. It keeps the characters and the viewers on edge knowing that even responding to the more mundane question or request puts them at risk for great scrutiny. It would not surprise me if the guy had a hidden trap door button used to drop the underperforming employees falling into a pool of hungry sharks.
The unsettling approach of Patoff sends employees reeling, especially the company creative liaison, Elaine (Brittany O’Grady), and game designer, Craig (Nat Wolff) who do not take kindly to his condescending ways. They begin investigating their new boss only to come across discoveries ranging from the curious to the bizarre. Watching what they unearth is half the fun of the series, even if the payoffs vary. Most other employees question just how malevolent Patoff is, but more or less fall into order due to his manipulative gaslighting, job threatening and carrot dangling. The cast also includes Aimee Carrero as Craig’s girlfriend who, thanks to Patoff, is growing increasingly suspicious of her boyfriend. It is another role that starts off interesting but is never defined enough for my taste.
The series often is often successful as a corporate satire even if that aspect is stretched rather thin. Some of the most tantalizing moments come when the rat race and greed are put under the microscope. One such scene has the staff relentlessly running up stairs, through and over each other in a mad dash to inherit a newly vacant office. It is one of the slicker and more relatable moments which I felt would benefit the series if additional ones like it were scattered throughout.
The series, adapted from the novel by Bentley Little by showrunner Tony Basgallop, best known for the chilling AppleTV+ series Servant – Basgallop’s specialty is injecting chaos into the mundane. In Servant he turned a residential Philadelphia brownstone into a swirling household of mania. For The Consultant he is at it again transforming a modern office space into a disturbing enigma.
While it is wickedly fun at times, the series does suffer from uneven pacing and inconsistent delivery of thrills. Since it starts with a bang it is hard not to anticipate more. They do come just much more sporadically than expected, dispersed about as we shuffle between tangents of the search for Patoff details. Ultimately, just when you think you know where it is headed we are jettisoned down a new dark corridor; some are rewarding while others feel more like dead ends.
Overall, this is what I found myself drawn to – the unpredictable madness of it all. Even though I was never completely honed in on the mystery aspects, the twists, shocks, and even elephants peppered throughout are entertaining enough to keep me captivated through each 30-minute episode. Director Matt Shakman (WandaVision) keeps them moving along briskly enough to help me overlook the series’ weaknesses. The paranoia is plentiful and proposes a lot of questions. While it delivers few answers, there’s enough here to develop some theories.
The Consultant has a little something for several tastes, but may lack the focus to lock in any one audience in particular. The main draw here is Waltz, and understandably so. His ability to create uneasiness every time he is on screen is uncanny. He self-assuredly carries himself from each peculiar situation to the next, tapping into the workplace hell Basgallop puts his characters through. As the first season ends, we are teased with more potential mayhem (contingent on a season two green light). If The Consultant does return, hopefully he runs a slightly tighter ship, because he seems to have knack for this.
The Consultant premieres February 24 on Amazon Prime. Post your theories in the comments.