Video games turn kids into killers. Video games give kids psychotic breaks. Pressing buttons in patterns will hypnotize young minds into committing murder. That's the juicy setup of the opening three minutes of The Consultant, Prime Video's Mythic Quest, Severance-style workplace thriller. It's just a shame The Consultant isn't really a compelling dissection of the effects of video games. It isn't even really about video games. Mainly, it's about an enigmatic businessman manipulating workers.
Still, based on that, you can sense that The Consultant, based on Bentley Little's 2015 novel of the same name, has the potential to be snackable TV. The eight half-hour episodes -- written by Tony Basgallop, who delivered similarly absurd thrills for Apple TV Plus' psychological horror Servant -- have all the ingredients of an addictive show. Each is packed with twists, cliff-hangers, characters nervously sneaking around an office at night and -- its greatest asset -- the joy of Christoph Waltz playing a mischievous oddball.
Regus Patoff, played by Waltz, is the titular consultant, a suit-wearing, older generation figure of unknown origin. Waltz is terrifically fun to watch as a foreigner with off-putting customs, like sniffing employees to test whether they have bad body odor. His strange inability to physically walk up stairs provides even more intrigue, if not being a metaphor for climbing the ranks of power, a struggle he always manages to overcome.
Patoff arrives at a mobile games app development studio with the directive of improving business. The workers, including underappreciated assistant Elaine (Brittany O'Grady, who played Paula in the first season of The White Lotus) and sometimes slacker Craig (Nat Wolff), don't quite know how to handle the weird and unsettling Patoff, whose first extremely shocking decree is that no one can work from home.
Hints in the news, strange events captured in secret video camera footage, keys to hidden rooms, and traumatizing employee-boss bonding are all threads of the unraveling mystery. With few jobs going in the games industry, Elaine and Craig are trapped in Patoff's morally gray pressure cooker. They're forced to do things they wouldn't otherwise do, all in the name of getting results.
Even so, the tone of The Consultant remains light and superficial. It never pushes boundaries or reaches the squirmier territory of a black-comedy horror. It's almost an ironic untapped potential; the semi-twisted events play out without really getting under your skin. You're never psychologically unsettled or forced to think about what you'd do in the same predicament, like Severance does with its conceit about a split home and work consciousness.
The Consultant briefly touches on high concepts: There's a brief moment when Craig questions whether he and the other developers should feel responsible for kids who carry out macabre acts lifted from their video games. Very brief. These compelling questions barely impact the main Who Is Regus Patoff? storyline. While the journey to this answer is one you'll want to see out, it feels like an opportunity was missed to deliver a more impactful tale.
Really, The Consultant is a breezy thriller about how far you'd go to gain a promotion. Elaine's and Craig's arcs are wrapped up with a few nice full-circle touches, particularly one involving an escaped circus elephant. Waltz is memorable on villain duty, but once Patoff's intentions are no longer ambiguous, it's difficult to see his character inflicting more shenanigans in potential future seasons with the same appeal.
An entertaining mystery with Christoph Waltz doing his villain thing, The Consultant is easy, bingeable viewing. Sadly, the juiciest bits are sacrificed in favor of frivolous twists.
All eight episodes of The Consultant hit Prime Video on Friday.