It’s been five years since audiences last saw Dan Brown’s character Robert Langdon in the 2016 feature film “Inferno” and it honestly feels like a moment in time that can’t be recreated. It’s hard to describe the events of 2003 to someone who didn’t feverishly rush out to read Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” one of the most popular books at the time, equally loved and castigated for its claims about Jesus being married and having children. The eventual adaptation in 2006, starring Tom Hanks, didn’t have as much controversy as the novel, but it did have plenty of its own success.
Now, though, it’s hard to remember what all the fuss was about. Considering the landscape of both books and television, it’s hard not to feel like a TV series devoted to Brown’s character is arriving a few years past its expiration date. Even worse is the fact that Brown’s novel “The Lost Symbol” was initially planned to be the third Hanks feature before the switch to “Inferno.” That change might be telling us something about the source material we’re watching.
Based on the three episodes already sent to press, it’s unclear whether “The Lost Symbol” acts in unison with any of the previous features, though this functions as a prequel in spite of the original novel being set after “The Da Vinci Code.” Here, Robert Langdon (Ashley Zukerman) is a professor of symbology who teaches his class about the ways some of those ancient symbols can be co-opted for nefarious purposes. Within the first episode we’re treated to a PowerPoint presentation showing how swastikas have been recycled by the Nazis and the alt-right. I hope these kids didn’t pay a ton for this class.
He’s asked by the assistant of his mentor Peter Solomon (Eddie Izzard) to come to Washington D.C. to give a speech. But upon arrival Langdon discovers there is no speech and the entire thing has been a ruse: Peter has actually been kidnapped by a shadowy figure who wants Langdon to help him. What that figure wants help doing is something that the opening three episodes never properly contextualize. Brown’s novels, though compellingly readable, are steeped with wordy backstories, generally revolving around the Freemasons. Hearing the actors give Brown’s word vomit exposition is like hearing another language that’s often hard to parse.
Roughly, everyone is seeking the top of a pyramid that opens some type of portal (I think?) that gives the bearer unlimited cosmic power (maybe?). With so much exposition and so many things still waiting to be deciphered, it makes these early episodes of “The Lost Symbol” feel incredibly aimless, almost like the plot is being tweaked as things go along.
Running alongside the pyramid chase is additional backstory following Peter’s family and his fractured relationship with his son, Zachary (Keenan Jolliff), who spent time in a Turkish prison. How this all connects to a man covered head-to-toe in tattoos (a Dan Brown staple) remains to be seen, but Izzard is certainly game for anything, including one particular big surprise in the pilot. The rest of the cast is mired in standard TV movie drama poses, looking into the camera with concern as serious music thumps in the background.
Robert Langdon isn’t a character you’d ever call charismatic, no matter how hard Tom Hanks tried. The character fares about the same in the hands of Zukerman, who generally has one mode throughout these early episodes: He conveys Langdon’s bookishness, but that’s about it. The addition of a romantic interest in Katherine Solomon (Valorie Curry) fizzles more than flames, especially as we’re given pieces of how their relationship deteriorated; it might be because it lacked chemistry to begin with.
The other characters come off as just as one-note. Rick Gonzalez’s Nunez, a guard at the Capital Rotunda dragged into the mystery, feels more like comic relief (or the closest thing to an audience avatar), perpetually wondering if Langdon is serious about what he’s saying. Sumalee Montano is the determined FBI agent with her own reasons for finding Solomon. Even this show’s assassins are bland yet menacing faces whose names are apparently not worth knowing after three episodes.
“The Lost Symbol” feels like something you’d watch on Saturday morning cable when the remote is lost, though Peacock might be hoping to secure fans of the “Librarians” franchise, too. “The Lost Symbol” just never feels as adventurous and ambitious as its source material, and maybe that’s because the entire affair feels five years too late.
The first episode of “Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol” is now available to stream on Peacock. New episodes will premiere each Thursday.