The Old Man. FX. Thursday, June 23, 10 p.m., and available now on Hulu.
Hollywood's baby boomers are not going gently into that good night. And watching a couple of the better ones rage against the dying of the light in FX's The Old Man is about as good a television experience as you can possibly have this summer. Jeff Bridges as a long-disappeared CIA paramilitary man and John Lithgow as a formerly friendly boss who's trying to hunt him down and kill him offer thrills, spills, and bloody chills in equally gripping doses.
At the ages of 72 and 76, respectively, Bridges (whose television career began an astonishing 64 years ago) and Lithgow both offer transfixing performances as a pair of ex-spooks who can't let go of an ancient feud from their covert days in Afghanistan three decades ago. They struggle to put on their socks in the morning and to control their dysfunctional bladders, but they retain a startling command of the skills of their old trade that involve flying lead, crushed windpipes, and ruthless double-crosses.
Loosely adapted from the novel by Thomas Perry, The Old Man debuted last week. But you can easily catch up on Hulu or the streaming service FX Now, and you'll want to do that; The Old Man is not a show to casually join in progress. The early scenes, with Bridges playing Dan Chase, a slightly doddering suburban widower who spends his time seeing doctors in hopes of warding off the infirmities of old age, not only set a soon-to-be-shattered tone but offer important clues about what's to come.
Chase realizes his three decades of off-the-grid concealment have come to an end when he gets a call from Harold Harper (Lithgow), his former CIA boss who's now a senior official in the FBI. One of their sanguinary old operations, buried in the archives, has come back to life after a political shuffle in Afghanistan, and FBI agents are on their way to grab Chase* and turn him over to a vicious warlord with a long memory. Harper is warning him because if Chase is caught, Harper's own role in that operation (exactly what that is remains murky) will come to light, with disastrous results.
Chase makes a quick getaway, but the trail of corpses he leaves behind makes Harper realize that the case is not going to fade away as he hoped, and his own career will be more secure if Chase is dead rather than in custody. Soon Chase is being hunted by not only the FBI and the CIA, who merely want to catch him, but a skilled assassin employed by Harper who wants to kill him.
Others playing flip-flop roles in the pursuit are Harper's FBI protégé Angela Adams (Alia Shawkat, Arrested Development), who senses there's something more sinister to the case than just a botched CIA operation, and lonely divorcee Zoe McDonald (Amy Brenneman, Judging Amy), who's dragged into the case after renting a room to Chase and then senses opportunity in her own kidnapping.
Every member of the cast is explosively talented—so much so that some of them seem seriously underutilized. I was dumbfounded to realize that one old CIA hand who appears only briefly was played by Joel Grey—yes, that Joel Grey.
In the early going, The Old Man seems like a skilled but predictable shoot-'em-up, full of exquisitely staged violent encounters that erupt without warning. But as it unfolds, like an onion shedding bloody skins, it's apparent that every character has secrets and practically nothing is as it seems—including Chase's cuddly pet Rottweilers, who turn out to be support animals in multiple senses of the term.
Bridges and Lithgow* of course play the most multifaceted of the characters, and the precision with which they morph from doting old men into steely gunmen (Bridges) or bloodthirsty bureaucrats (Lithgow) is breathtaking. But nearly everything about them is a pose. "When I was a little girl, I imagined there was nothing you were afraid of," Chase's daughter tells him, seeking reassurance. "You were indestructible." Replies her father, in a soothing tone wrapped around barbed wire: "I hate to break this to you, but you weren't very bright as a kid."
But it doesn't pay to underestimate any character in The Old Man, including the women, who all share concealed caches of intellect, cunning, and ruthlessness. "The world is full of monsters," says one of them. "Sooner or later, we all take our turn." In The Old Man, it's generally sooner.
CORRECTION: * The original version of this story used the wrong name.