Roush Review: Two J.K. Simmons Are Better Than One in ‘Counterpart’

Counterpart - J. K. Simmons

It’s usually a problem when a show doesn’t live up to the gimmick that defines it. But when the hook is this strong, letting a great character actor like Oscar winner J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) play two distinctively, deliciously different versions of the same character, much can be forgiven.

In the most enjoyable who-are-they-now tour de force since Tatiana Maslany’s multiple star turns on Orphan Black, Simmons is sensational as Howard Silk: In our world, a meek mensch toiling in obscurity in an opaque Berlin spy agency; in a Fringe-like parallel dimension accessible by a portal (don’t ask), he’s a steely, take-charge tough-guy action hero. When alpha Howard crosses over in pursuit of a rogue assassin and meets soft Howard, he’s as disgusted as we are delighted.

Counterpart is interested in duality, curious how the two Howards could have turned out so differently (though married to the same enigmatic woman, played by Olivia Williams). We’re more intrigued by the nuances of Simmons’s expert performance. You never forget who’s who, even, or maybe especially, when they pretend to be each other.

The spy/conspiracy story is kind of a dud, but Howard’s a keeper.

Counterpart, Sundays, 8/7c, Starz