The new political drama, The Looming Tower, might be one of the best things seen on New Zealand free-to-air television this year.

“A lot of the anxiety that floats around America stems from the fears we all have. The paranoia, the militarised security state we are building for ourselves—all of that comes out of 9/11. I’m not going to say that Donald Trump might not have been elected under different circumstances, but it’s clear to me that, in many respects, the world we’re in is defined by what happened on that day.” Lawrence Wright

WITHOUT A PUBLIC BROADCASTER to redress the balance even slightly, New Zealand'S free-to-air television is awash in a sludge of reality shows, cooking contests, formulaic American crime shows and 'celebrity culture'. Now and then though it does throw up something worth watching.

Nestling on Prime (Tuesday ) is the rather good political drama, The Looming Tower. Brought to you by Hulu, the same people who brought you The Handmaiden's Tale, this 10 part mini series examines the bureaucratic dysfunction of a United States administration that failed to prevent 9/11.

Based on Lawrence Wrights's Pulitzer winning book of the same name, this is a hard-nosed examination of the bitter rivalry between the CIA and the FBI and how they were unable to agree on the nature of the threat posed by Al-Qaeda. Even when the warnings were there to suggest something dire was going to happen the CIA still deliberately withheld information from the FBI, even though it had no right to do so.

Underpinning it all is American exceptionalism. There is a common assumption that the United States is entitled to trample into any country whenever its feels its interests of Empire are threatened - and damn the consequences. When John O'Neill ( Jeff Daniels) warns that firing cruise missiles into Afghanistan will merely assist  Al-Qaeda's recruitment drive, his warnings go unheeded. In stark contrast the chief of the CIA's Bin Laden unit ,Martin Schmidt,(Peter Sarsgaard), is unmoved by the 'collateral damage' that the strikes will inevitably inflict. He explains he's an American nationalist first. He is Dick Cheney on steroids but he is also eerily Trumpian.

The Looming Tower is an absorbing and intelligent political drama with something to say. But it has its flaws. This is a testosterone-fuelled drama where women play a peripheral role, largely as wives and girlfriends. And while it touches on some of the political grievances of Al Queda there is next to no exploration of those grievances..The man himself, Osama Bin Laden, is seen only in a few documentary snippets. Despite the fact he is a central character in this drama he remains a shadowy figure.


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