The Night Agent is a thriller by numbers – we’ve seen it all before
The Night Agent is perfectly watchable, but if you're looking for something new, this isn't it.
Ever get a sense of déjà vu when watching a series you know you haven't seen before?
Well, prepare to experience exactly that with The Night Agent, Netflix's brand new series starring Gabriel Basso and Oscar nominee Hong Chau, a political thriller that... well no, actually that's pretty much all you need to know.
The Night Agent is based on the novel of the same name by Matthew Quirk, and follows Basso's Peter Sutherland, a low level FBI agent who works in the basement of the White House manning a phone line that never rings. However, when it does he's thrown into action, looking to untangle the web surrounding a dangerous conspiracy.
Now, it's important to note that The Night Agent is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a bad series. It tells a simple but engaging story, the action beats are well devised and propulsive and the performances are well-pitched. Basso in particular is magnetic in this role, making a fairly two dimensional character believable and likeable.
It's just one of the most wholly generic series we've seen in a while, and indicative of the content model a number of the streamers seem to be striving for these days.
There's good reason for this. After all, The Night Agent acts as a perfect binge watch, with each episode rolling into the next handily. You don't need to pay close attention – even if you get lost in the plot at some points, one of the characters will spell everything out for you in a subsequent scene, making sure everyone's still on board.
The intelligence agent gone rogue to deliver justice isn't just a trope by now; it's a whole subgenre. And some series and films manage to make this distinct.
Just look at Apple TV+ series Slow Horses, which is marked out by its dry wit and a grimy aesthetic. Even where it's spy plots are sometimes familiar, the excellent character work and inimitable tone make it feel one-of-a-kind.
Here, everything is polished. The look of the drama is the go-to style for a mid-tier streaming series, with lots of helicopter shots of Washington, secretive phone calls made from diners and indistinguishable hallways. It looks perfectly fine – just generic.
The humour consists of a couple of light and breezy quips, but for the most part everything is treated with an unnecessary gravity. The introduction of two assassins who are also lovers could easily have introduced some dark comedy to the proceedings, but that isn't the series this wants to be.
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Even Chau, who in countless projects has so far proven herself to be a phenomenal performer and a truly individual screen presence, is here seen in a by the numbers role as the White House's chief of staff, who acts as Peter's boss and confidant.
Can she be trusted? Maybe, maybe not. In the end neither would come as a shock because again, we've seen this before, where twist is piled upon twist and everyone the protagonist trusts is in doubt.
Some of these tropes of course have to play out – they're what make a political thriller what it is. It just feels like The Night Agent could have used a little more innovation to make it stand out from the crowd.
The truth is that in recent years the thriller, and in particular the political thriller, has oftentimes become one of least thrilling genres around, because we know all the beats already. This series is comfort viewing, plain and simple, keeping you far back in your seat rather than being on the edge of it, just letting the episodes play out.
If you haven't seen this sort of narrative in a while and you're looking for an easy watch, then I'd absolutely advise you to dive into The Night Agent. It plays the beats well with an impressive cast, and there are plenty of options out there right now where that is not the case.
But if you asked me to tell you about a series where a low-level agent goes rogue from an organisation he can't trust in order to get to the heart of a conspiracy, I'd be hard pressed to whittle it down to 10 options, let alone pick out this show.
That's why a fresh take on the material is key, and unfortunately, The Night Agent doesn't have one.
The Night Agent is available to watch on Netflix today. Sign up for Netflix from £4.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.
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