Showtime’s 2005 miniseries Sleeper Cell had such a ballsy premise—a Muslim African-American FBI agent defending Old Glory and moderate Islam by going undercover among extremists—that it’s almost a wonder there were enough viewers to warrant a sequel. Like its predecessor, American Terror rejects sensationalism and pairs a relentless geopolitical-thriller plot with subtle personal stories about conflicts between faith, politics and daily survival. Eight one-hour episodes will air on successive nights (the full run is also available on demand as of Sunday 10), and the momentum makes the series powerfully addictive while ensuring that the occasional outlandish plot twist is a little easier to take.
Forced to go undercover again just as he’s about to start teaching at the bureau academy, Darwyn Al-Sayeed (Michael Ealy) joins a crew planning a nuclear attack in California, and soon winds up in charge thanks to the would-be terrorists’ inexperience. As before, his targets are an ethnically diverse lot whose fanaticism stems from unsuccessful attempts to solve personal problems through Islam: The extremists include a Briton of Iraqi descent (Omid Abtahi) who’s trapped in the closet and a Dutch prostitute-turned--au pair (Thekla Reuten) tired of being objectified.
Outside the U.S., the surviving members of the first cell Darwyn took down, Saudi mastermind Farik (Oded Fehr) and Bosnian hothead Ilija Korjenic (Henri Lubatti), serve as wild cards and, in Farik’s case, occasionally provide an unwelcome dash of broad James Bond villainy. But the false notes are rare, and in continuing to root Darwyn’s heroism in his love for Allah, America and a white woman (Melissa Sagemiller) without a hint of self-congratulation, Sleeper Cell stays on the right side of the line between bravery and political correctness. — Andrew Johnston