I was late to Andy Greenwald and Rosario Dawson’s single season television series Briarpatch. The series, cancelled after one season at the start of 2020, was based upon a novel by Ross Thomas. Dawson plays a U.S. Senate investigator who has left D.C. and returned to her small hometown in Texas to investigate the car bomb murder of her younger sister. We’ve seen this setup oh so many times before, but Briarpatch feels fresher largely thanks to a strong cast led by Dawson and some bold updates to the paranoid conspiracy thriller genre.
Briarpatch was broadcast on the USA Network, produced by Anonymous Content- responsible for other intelligent, postmodern series True Detective and Mr. Robot, and executive produced by Mr. Robot‘s creator Sam Esmail. Like those shows and Hulu’s recent murder mystery dramady Only Murders in the Buildings, Greenwald and Dawson’s series places a heavy emphasis on its setting (the Lone Star state) and fills it with an admirable cast. Dawson, who has always been strongest playing characters who are serious, intelligent, and also stricken, was born to lead a noir series. She’s ably supported by American television’s most underrated actress, Kim Dickens, as well as Mad Men‘s Jay Ferguson, Edi Gathegi, Brian Geraghty, Christine Woods, David Paymer, the late Ed Asner, and Alan Cumming.
American television certainly didn’t need another conspiracy-related murder mystery, but Briarpatch is colorful- both visually and through a Tarantino-esque collection of old pop songs, funny, and unpredictable. Throughout the series, characters listen to an Alex Jones/Joe Rogan-like radio nut job, a Greek Chorus for modern times connecting the characters through space, airwaves, electricity, and capitalism. I was lukewarm on the show until this radio personality actually shows up on the show played by an actor going far against type. I won’t spoil much more except to say that like another short-lived conspiracy masterpiece, Terriers, Briarpatch will probably be regarded years, if not decades now, as some kind of grungy, knowing, cognitive mapping work of art.