There are certain actors who consistently deliver outstanding performances, making any project they join worth watching just for them. Brian Tyree Henry is one such actor, embodying each character with such gravity that it feels like everything in the story revolves around him. He has the remarkable ability to elevate even the weakest material, commanding attention and leaving a lasting impression. In “Class of ’09,” a new limited series by Tom Rob Smith of “American Crime Story,” Henry is tasked with carrying much of the weight to hold together a plot that can feel scattered at times. However, over the first four episodes of the eight-episode season, Henry’s scenes are the ones that truly shine. While the rest of the series may have its ups and downs, Henry’s performance is consistently captivating.
The series follows a class of aspiring FBI agents as they train and confront the challenges of their work across three different time periods: 2009, 2023, and 2034. Unlike typical copaganda, the show doesn’t paint law enforcement and authority figures as infallible. Instead, it approaches the structures and their use of new artificially intelligent surveillance with a healthy dose of skepticism. While it bears similarities to Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report,” it lacks the same level of visionary direction and compelling storytelling. Although the series strives to transcend the typical procedural format, it gets bogged down in the first half of the season with its constant jumps between timelines, which can be more tedious than exciting. While there are plenty of engaging moments, there are also some less captivating chapters.
The story begins with a group of strangers arriving at Quantico to start their training. Through occasional flashbacks and monologues, we get glimpses of their past lives, including the two main characters, Tayo Michaels and Ashley Poet. While their fellow classmates are callous and cruel, Tayo and Ashley look out for each other. As the years pass and criminal justice is reshaped by artificial intelligence, Tayo and Henry will play instrumental roles. The most intriguing element is seeing Henry shift into being an antagonist.
While the series hints at a more thoughtful interrogation of how technology can become a tool of repression, it’s held back by action sequences that are less interesting than the underlying questions. Henry’s gradual corruption is chilling, and it raises delicate questions about reform from within. Although there are extraneous elements and clunky dialogue, Henry’s performance elevates the show above its trappings. The cuts back and forth across time create juxtapositions about how each character has become unrecognizable to their past selves, especially Tayo. The show teeters on the edge of science fiction, but Henry grounds it in a character study of a man who becomes lost in the power he has gained.
Despite the series’ many hang-ups, Henry’s performance makes it worth seeing where the story will go.