Possible spoilers ahead!
“Counterpart”is the new Starz series that’s one part old-school spy drama, and one part mind bending science fiction. This is a show that features parallel worlds, a diverging timeline, and doppelgangers. In other words, “Counter Part has something for everyone, and I haven’t even mentioned it star the one and only J.K. Simmons.
Simmons stars as two versions of a man named Howard Silk. The first Howard we meet in the pilot is a mild-mannered man who has held the same mysterious and unchanging job at a UN spy agency for the past 29 years. Howard’s life became more complicated recently when his wife Emily (Olivia Williams) was struck by a car and is now in a coma.
The other Howard — the Howard Prime — enters from “the other side,” which is a parallel dimension in which the worlds and people are identical in some ways, and very different in others. Howard Prime (also played by J.K. Simmons) is an employee at the same UN agency, but unlike his doppelgänger, Howard Prime is a spy high up in the agency who can travel back and forth between worlds whenever he pleases.
Meeting one’s double is usually forbidden, but when an assassin (Sara Serraiocco) from Prime’s side crosses over, protocol is tossed out the window. While Howard Prime doesn’t know the assasin’s plan, he does know she plans to kill the other Howard’s wife.
The concept of doubles from a parallel Earth is nothing new in sci-fi shows. But “Counterpart” gives an educated explanation for why the two worlds are interacting. The reasoning the show gives makes sense and doesn’t complicate things much. “Counterpart” keeps things streamlined and focused on the Howards story. The show then becomes a study on humanity and their personalities rather than your usual sc-fi special effects bonanza.
All of that is cool, but J.K. Simmons is the driving force behind the series, and the reason the show nails the landing. Whether he’s playing the mild-mannered Howard, or the Howard who isn’t afraid to pull the trigger when the situation call for it, Simmons is brilliant in both roles.
One of my favorite parts in the pilot was the scene when the Howards are left alone so they learn about one another. The conversation covers everything from their childhood, marriage, and even cholesterol. This scene is funny, jarring, but always entertaining. After just one episode, I can’t picture anyone else playing the role of Howard Silk.
At the end of the day, I was highly impressed with “Counterpart.” The story is so gripping that you won’t want to look away because you might miss something. This show has spies, drama, and assassins, and though its early, J.K. Simmons’ performances as the two Howards may go down as some of the best work of his career.
“Counterpart” final score: A