The darkly funny spy series Slow Horses has a lot going for it: a smart balance of intrigue and dark humour, an episodic pace and a solid cast that features stellar performances from Oscar-winning actors Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas.
Here are five reasons to watch the highly entertaining series, which just started airing its second season on Apple TV earlier this month.
Not every British intelligence officer gets to join MI6 and play James Bond. Some must stick closer to home and push paper for MI5. Slow Horses eschews the glamour of John le Carré- and Ian Fleming-style spy dramas and downgrades the fantasy to a grim workaday reality. The series focuses on a ragtag crew of D-list British intelligence agents, who, through every fault of their own, have wound up demoted to the drab wilderness of Slough House, a desk-bound subsidiary of MI5 that’s kind of like the Dunder Mifflin of spy services: a career dead-end. Crap spies trying to be not-as-crap-as-people-think-they-are is a clever twist that refreshes what is a mostly stale genre, and it’s one that’s weirdly resonant, too. What viewer can’t relate to feeling like their talents are being squandered in a grim cubicle under unflattering fluorescent light?
A good TV binge is great, especially over the holidays, but stumbling upon a solid book series that you can dig into is a dream come true for readers. With Slow Horses, you get both. The series is based on a popular book series by English author Mick Herron. In total, Herron has written eight books, and the TV series, thus far, seems to hew closely to its novelistic counterparts in plot and tone. (In the book, Herron describes the residents of Slough House as a “post-useful crew of misfits that can be stored and left to gather dust.”)
Like book one, season one of the series—which you can now watch in its entirety—concerns the kidnapping of a young man and the race to rescue him before his murder is streamed online by his kidnappers. Season two, which is airing now in weekly instalments, centres on the team uncovering the roots of a rumoured Cold War-era spy network and coping with the dark influence of a Russian oligarch.
Oscar winners Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas star in the series—Oldman as the disheveled and disgraced Slough House head, Jackson Lamb, and Thomas as coldblooded glamourpuss, M15 leader Diana Taverner. An Odd Couple-style mismatch, their mutual contempt for each other is part of the fun of the series, and their scenes together represent some of the most entertaining moments of the show. There’s no sexual tension here—just the familiar chafe between two colleagues who dislike one another intensely but who need to work together.
The show is not just for midlife professionals who like to see their irritability writ large and depicted onscreen—there are also sexy younger people on canvas to liven things up, like dreamy wannabe James Bond, River Cartwright (Jack Lowden), and uber-competent agent Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar), who some might recognize from another watch-worthy British series, Harlots.
Slow Horses’ fusion of domestic spycraft with the tedium of office life is laced with laughs, which isn’t something you can say of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Much of the funniest dialogue is given to Oldman’s serially under-bathed character, who not only gratuitously peppers his team with insults as a kind of psy op designed to encourage them to try harder, but who is known to crop dust them, too. (Let it be known that no show manages to incorporate farts and farting into its drama as well as Slow Horses.)
The series theme song, "Strange Game," comes courtesy of none other than Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, who co-wrote the song and released it especially for the series. (In an interview with Rolling Stone, Jagger said he’d read some of Mick Herron’s books and “ripped off a whole bunch of lyrics right away.’) It’s a bluesy and dark rock song that perfectly encapsulates the down-at-heel spirit of the series, seeding the ground for the unfolding drama. Rocking out to it is just part of the fun.
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