Fave viewing over the past few years has been SLOW HORSES on AppleTV+. A spy show with all the intrigues of a John le Carré novel, but if George Smiley was written as a sarcastic smart arse and every other spy was a downbeat comedian.
The show focusses on spies who’ve disgraced themselves, but for various political reasons cannot be simply fired. We are led into this espionage backwater by an earnest young agent who has become persona non grata with Mi5. His efforts to get back into the slick world of Regent’s Park puts him at the heart of the action in the series. Though he’s from Mi5 royalty (as his grandfather used to head the organisation) he’s banished to a shabby facility called Slough House.
This kingdom of losers is ruled by Jackson Lamb, hilariously played by Gary Oldman. Famed for being a chameleon, Oldman is clearly having enormous fun here, playing this jaded old cold warrior, who doesn’t care any more. Lamb has let himself go physically, but is still mentally sharp enough to anticipate when he’s being setup. Which is often, and most likely by his Mi5 boss Diana Taverner (played with deadpan ice queen flair by Kristin Scott Thomas). Her disdain for the screwups of Slough House doesn’t stop her from using their services. These ‘Slow Horses’ are ostensibly kept on by ‘the service’ for menial jobs – filing and desk work – but they are sometimes caught up in intrigues too. Simply because Mi5 often needs fall guys.
Mi5 is portrayed as a world of grasping political climbers. The higher up the political totem pole, the more damehoods & knighthoods there are. But ruthless sociopaths abound too. More than willing to sacrifice their underlings if it advances their own interests, or covers up a blunder. The traditional baddies of spy stories are here, but rather than the Russians or international terrorists, domestic political dirty dealing is responsible for most of the body count.
For all their flaws, the Slow Horses have more decency than the ‘winners’. They are prickly & snarky characters, that are nevertheless likeable. A fave of mine is Roddy Ho, Slough House’s IT expert. His hilariously pompous dialog is brilliantly played to the smugly annoying hilt by Christopher Chung. Pint-sized firecracker Shirley Dander (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) her gun-handy office-mate Marcus Longridge (Kadiff Kirwan) and wily old school operative Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves) are a couple of other faves, but honestly, all the characters have their moments.
The show-runner is standup comedian & writer Will Smith, who manages to deliver laughs aplenty but also real drama. Main characters can die, and probably when you’d just learned to love them. We enjoyed watching this show so much that, after finishing the 3rd season, we RE-watched the entire thing, and were entertained even more the 2nd time.
Having just exhausted all the viewing options available, Julia & I just began the book series that the show is based on, by Mick Herron. Though many details differ, the books are remarkably similar to the TV series, tonally. Added background details to the characters & plots make them enjoyable even after seeing the show. Hopefully they will feed us enough Lamb until season 4 drops at the end of 2024.