Roush Review: Past, Present & Future Collide in ‘Class of ’09’ FBI Drama

Brian Tyree Henry and Kate Mara in 'Class of '09'
Richard Ducree/FX

Class of '09

Matt's Rating: rating: 3.5 stars

At times you may think you’re watching a reboot of ABC’s Quantico (2015-18). Then you’re suddenly thrust into a futuristic Minority Report-style sci-fi allegory. Scribe Tom Rob Smith’s (London Spy) intriguingly cluttered thriller Class of ’09, the latest provocative FX drama to go straight to streaming on Hulu, ambitiously toggles between three time periods, when perhaps one would have sufficed.

In 2009, we meet an FBI training class, including former nurse and underdog champion Poet (House of Cards’ soulful Kate Mara), disillusioned insurance agent Tayo (Atlanta’s brooding Brian Tyree Henry), Iranian immigrant offspring Hour (Sepidah Moafi) and a few slices of generic and underwritten beefcake played by such familiar faces as Brian J. Smith and Jake McDorman. They’re all put through the physical and psychological wringer, as we’ve seen many times before. (Brooke Smith and Jon Jon Briones are quite good, however, as their supervisors.)

The present-day storyline, set in 2023, finds these now-seasoned agents well into their careers, with Poet an accomplished undercover agent while Tayo has been assigned to a Western outpost in Montana, where he comes face to face with a violent separatist group led by a merrily scenery-chewing Mark Pellegrino. This could be mistaken for any one of TV’s various FBI procedurals, if not for the fact that Class telegraphs the disaster brewing today from a storyline set in the future.

In 2034, Tayo has now become the head of the FBI, defending a controversial Artificial Intelligence law-enforcement system (how timely) that has taken on a life and mind of its own. The development of this AI occurs in the 2023 segments, when a research unit led by Hour advocates for a comprehensive criminal database as a “guardrail against bias and error,” only to see it warped into a technological Pandora’s box, a predictive algorithm that decides guilt and innocence, resulting in paranoid oppression and inexplicable, unexplained arrests.

The multiple time frames keep you more engaged and alert than in the typical crime drama, with Mara and Henry particularly strong as agents who bonded as recruits but end up on different sides of the debate over the bureau’s chilling new emphasis on machines over flawed humanity.

With only four of the eight episodes available for review, it’s impossible to gauge if this Class, billed as a limited series, will graduate with top honors. But just when you think you’ve seen every variation on an FBI drama, this mix of old school and new is at least something different, even when some of the parts feel awfully familiar.

Class of ’09, Series Premiere (two episodes), Wednesday, May 10, Hulu (from FX)