I recently finished watching season one the BBC/FX show Taboo, and boy am I ready for Season Two. I felt compelled to write about this show because A). It was really enjoyable and B). I don’t feel like very many people are talking about it. The first thing that you should know about Taboo is that it’s a passion project for actor Tom Hardy. There are a number of great performances on Taboo, but the show is a showcase for Hardy’s particular brand of scowling and grunting. If you can’t stand Hardy or find is mumbling to be insufferable, stay the hell away from Taboo. But if you’re like me, and you can’t get enough of the weirdly likable actor, then Taboo is the show for you.
A crossbreed of Dickens, Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, with a dash of Peaky Blinders (another great Hardy show), Taboo is set in 1814 England. The show is about the unexpected return of Hardy’s character, James Keziah Delaney, from Africa after he’s long presumed dead. Delaney returns mysteriously up just in time for his father’s funeral and to foul-up the plans on the ghoulish vultures circling his estate. A prime piece of contention: Nootka Sound, a barren chunk of the New World that England and the United States are desperate to acquire for…well reasons. The East India Trading Company, the World’s first mega-corporation, is hellbent on getting this property and offers to buy it from Delaney who mysteriously knows the land is super-important and turns them down. Thus begins a game of cat and mouse between Hardy’s character and the Company led by the deliciously villainous Johnathan Pryce (who is also a fantastic villain on Game of Thrones).
The first season plays out over eight episodes, so it’s not a huge commitment if, like me, you aren’t looking to get involved in a sprawling epic. The show’s production values and acting are all top notch, not sure for a television show, either. One gets the impression that Taboo could have been a film at one point but was turned into a miniseries. The complaints I’ve read about the show (other than Hardy’s mumbling/grunting) all seem to focus on the speed by which the plot is doled out. Some online have complained that that show is “slow,” but I disagree. The story moves along quite nicely and features murder, betrayal, spying, international intrigue, incest, and even cross dressing. There’s a somewhat mystical component to Delaney that I won’t get into for fear of spoilers, but the show does a nice job balancing what is real and what is surreal, and by the end, it’s still not 100% clear how Delaney knows as much as he does. Some people might be turned off by the inclusion of a dash (just a dash) of the occult/supernatural into what is otherwise a very gritty crime story. I was fine with it because Hardy sells the shit out of his tough-as-nails but haunted character.
While the show is very well done, the story is pretty much the stuff of airport paperbacks. And while the show does offer a few surprises, most of the story beats feel familiar enough that nothing truly shocks you. So what makes Taboo worth watching? The strength of Hardy’s performance coupled with a fantastic supporting cast is what elevates Taboo above the other period-set dramas. Compared to say, Hell on Wheels or Vikings this show is a fucking masterpiece (and those are both pretty good shows). I think the other thing that helped raise the bar on this show was the backing of the BBC which always turns out quality programming.
We live in a time wherein there are a million-and-one Netflix shows, and something like Taboo could sail under your radar if you let it. Don’t sleep on this show, however, because it’s worth your time. And hey, it’s only an eight-hour commitment. Can’t you commit to Tom Hardy for eight hours? After I had finished the show, I read online that the series has a green light for two more seasons. Normally I’d be pretty skeptical about two more seasons of a show like Taboo, but (and again I have to be careful due to spoilers) let’s just say there’s no worry that Season 2 will be a mere retread of Season 1. Taboo doesn’t do that thing a lot of serialized TV does and merely spin its wheels to maintain a status quo–this is a story, and it moves forward quite nicely. I eagerly anticipate more grunting and mumbling in Season 2.