Terrific ‘Class of ’09’ shows FBI trainees at three stages of their lives

Disorienting leaps between timelines mar Hulu series that delivers expertly rendered action sequences and timely commentary about A.I.

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“Class of ’09” jumps between Poet (Kate Mara) and her classmates as aspiring FBI agents in 2009, and the people they become in 2023 and 2034.

FX

Here’s a revolutionary idea for a limited dramatic streaming series:

Tell the whole darn story in chronological order. No flashbacks, no flash forwards, no hazy memory sequences, no jumping along the timeline whatsoever. Can you even imagine?

From “Silo” to the “Fatal Attraction” reboot to “Daisy Jones & the Six” to “Rabbit Hole,” we’ve been bouncing around a lot of timelines lately. Granted, this is a time-honored and fundamental storytelling technique that’s been with us forever, and it’s often the raison d’être for a series, as with the entire arc of “Yellowjackets” and the Netflix prequel series “Queen Charlotte,” where everything that happens NOW is informed by what happened THEN. There are times, though, when there’s so much careening back and forth through the years that it muddies the waters and makes us feel like we have to work hard just to keep up with where the primary characters are, geographically AND dramatically.

‘Class of ‘09’

Untitled

A series premiering with two episodes Wednesday on Hulu, with a new episode premiering each Wednesday through June 21.

Such is the case with the FX on Hulu suspense thriller “Class of ’09,” which nearly trips over its own timeline even as it delivers expertly rendered action sequences, timely commentary about the expanding role of A.I. in our society and a killer cast. It’s a terrific, tightly spun, consistently engrossing series—but I have to admit that despite the title cards reminding us of what year it is in the timeline, there were a couple of times when even with the subtle changes in costume, the adjustments in makeup and what appears to be some digital sculpting of certain actors, I wasn’t sure if we were in the year 2009 or 2023 or 2034. I found myself wishing everyone would just settle down and remain in place for a while longer, just to let the story breathe.

“Class of ’09” begins in the year 2034, with the powerful, longtime FBI director Tayo Michaels (Brian Tyree Henry, great as always) presiding over a “Minority Report” type landscape in which 24/7 surveillance appears to have reached new levels, leading Michaels to proclaim, “Not only are we one of the greatest countries on this Earth, we are now also one of the safest.”

Flashback to 2009 and the FBI Academy near Quantico, Virginia, where Tayo is a former insurance executive who is struggling to meet the physical requirements to graduate. The class includes Kate Mara’s Poet, a former psychiatric nurse with something of a savior complex; Brian J. Smith’s Lennix, a cocky hotshot from a politically connected family, and Sepideh Moafi’s Hour, a brilliant mathematics and cyber-tech mind whose persecuted Iranian immigrant parents are shocked by her decision to pursue a career with the feds. (The 2009 scenes are reminiscent of the early sequences in “The Silence of the Lambs,” maybe more so because Brooke Smith, who was the kidnapped Catherine Martin in “Lambs,” plays a tough-but-fair FBI instructor.)

In the 2023 timeline, Hour has developed a sophisticated criminal database with distinct Big Brother overtones—an operation that is met with great skepticism by the traditional brass and even leads to the Bureau training its eye on Hour. In a couple of other story arcs—both rendered with great skill and creating nearly unbearable tension—Poet goes undercover as a Philadelphia cop in order to expose widespread corruption in the city’s police department, while Tayo leads the investigation into the cult-like leader (Mark Pellegrino) of a group of Montana domestic terrorists. Even when “Class of ‘09” seems all over the place and appears to be veering far from the main plot, it delivers some pulse-pounding investigative and action sequences.

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Brian Tyree Henry plays the FBI director, who seems to have lost his belief in fairness.

FX

Tayo emerges as the most intriguing character in “Class of ’09,” as we see his transformation from an earnest and righteous man who truly believes in justice and fair play to a heroic agent who will do anything to protect his partner and his family to a potential antagonist who seems intoxicated on power. With Kate Mara turning in her usual outstanding work, Poet is another fascinating figure: the classic loner anti-hero with a dark past. (In the 2034 sequences, Poet actually has a bionic eye that gives her full access to the frighteningly comprehensive technology.) The relationship between Poet and Hour, which grows ever more complicated through the decades, is also compelling.

This is a decidedly uneven effort; at times, the action has to come to a screeching halt for expository dialogue, as if the series is acknowledging it has some clarity problems. Still, thanks in large part to that outstanding cast and the cinematic production values, “Class of ’09” could graduate into something memorable.

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