The crux of Counterpart, Starz’s surprisingly gripping new drama, is that 30 years ago, East German scientists in Berlin accidentally cloned reality, creating a parallel dimension accessible only via a dank cellar underneath a shadowy UN agency. It is, in other words, completely loopy. What makes the show work is that it invests very little in selling the science of this concept, choosing to craft a taut, suspenseful spy thriller rather than a more fantastical work of science fiction. The point of the show isn’t the portal itself; it’s the diplomatic intrigue that’s sparked by a world splintering into two very different realities.
What also makes Counterpart work is the Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons, who brings gravitas and emotional heft to a project that could easily careen off the rails toward crazytown. Simmons plays Howard Silk, a mild-mannered civil servant late in his career who’s completely oblivious, like most citizens of Earth, to the mind-bending secret in the basement of the organization where he’s spent 30 years as a pencil pusher. Howard clocks in early every day and visits his comatose wife, Emily (Olivia Williams), at night. But his innocence is shattered when he’s confronted by Alternative-Howard, a defector from the other dimension who will only work with … himself