Review by Sean Boelman
British espionage thrillers are traditionally one of the most stoic and refined genres, and so it is nice to see one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The Apple TV+ series Slow Horses doesn’t have the most unpredictable plot, but a great cast and a novel approach make this an entertaining watch.
The series follows a group of MI5 agents who were rejected from the main ranks of the service and relegated to the sidelines in the hopes that they would just quit as they get wrapped up in a conspiracy that is bigger than anything they have ever worked before. Mick Herron’s novel, upon which the show is based, was released back in 2010, when this would have been a timelier spoof of a genre that was still at its peak.
However, in its lean six-episode run, writer Will Smith (who worked with satirist filmmaker Armando Iannucci on The Thick of It) has managed to spin a web that explores more about bureaucracy than anything in recent memory. And there is plenty of potential for this to be explored even further in future entries.
The comedy of the series is very subtle, and unlike some of Smith’s other work, probably won’t leave you rolling. But it has an acerbic wit to it that makes the satire even punchier. The tone, combined with the action that is surprisingly good for a project that crosses genres, makes up for the genericism in the plot itself.
Granted, the series does peak early with its action. The first scene of the first episode is the most memorable of the season, setting the bar so unreasonably high that the rest of the show doesn’t quite reach it. But the climactic action sequence does pay off quite well, bringing everything about the show’s mood together quite well.
Although the band of misfits that makes up the eponymous group is a bit on the archetypal side, they are certainly very endearing and lovable. It’s a group dynamic that is developed quickly and easy to buy into, especially if you’ve ever found comfort with other people who have been just as rejected as you.
Jack Lowden finally gets to be a leading man, and he shows here that he has the chops to be the next big action hero. Hopefully he will continue to get substantial roles like this and not be relegated to B-movie hell like so many are after they first show their worth. Gary Oldman is also great here, doing something very different than usual, even if his role isn’t as hefty as one would like.
Slow Horses is going to be a sleeper hit for Apple TV+. It’s an intelligent, well-acted, and perhaps most importantly, entertaining entry into a genre that all too often feels inaccessible in its approach.
Slow Horses streams on Apple TV+ beginning April 1, with new episodes streaming subsequent Fridays. All six episodes reviewed.