Box Watch: The Philanthropist

Two things struck me when I saw the title of this show last year:

1. the title, from a country who changed the title of the first Harry Potter instalment on the off-chance audience members didn’t know what ‘dictionary’ meant; and

2. the creator/writer/producer, Tom Fontana.

If neither of the above points compel you to consider The Philanthropist, the show, in a nutshell, is about a billionaire tycoon who saves the world one person at a time.

… That’s a bit trite. It’s both accurate and a disservice but….

I’d read the pilot courtesy of my far-flung connections. Yes, it’s about a rich white dude trying to make a difference – but the shaded characterisations and intelligent writing made it much more interesting.

… How about: Billionaire Teddy Rist, unable to dull the grief over his son’s death, tries to fill the void inside him by making the world a better place – not by using his considerable connections or his bottomless cheque book – but with only his guile, charm and heart.

Like I said: I really liked the script. I wanted to see the pilot.

And when I saw the pilot the other week… I thought I’d give it just one more ep.

And when I saw the second ep, whatever concerns I had with the show found a voice: Love the concept. Hate the execution.

The acting’s fab. The writing’s sharp (at least in the pilot). The production values are high.

But the whole “This week we’re in exotic, colourful, beautiful [INSERT FOREIGN LAND]” vibe really grates. It’s a slur to – my perceived – social heart of the series.

In the second ep, as Rist was horrified by the deplorable conditions of a Burmese mining camp in the second ep, I couldn’t help thinking, Gee, I wonder if the show will turn its attention to post-Katrina New Orleans or Baltimore’s projects.


I know it’s a fantasy. I know it’s on free-to-air NBC rather than cable. I guess if I want a show to fix the world in 45 minutes each week, I want it to fix a fictionalised, country-names-changed-to-protect-the-innocent kind of world. Anything else feels cheap and shallow and faintly insulting.

It’s probably just me.