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The Recruit: Netflix Series A Snarky, Subversive Spy Comedy-Thriller

Netflix's The Recruit is the kind of series that Netflix used to be known for, an off-beat, unexpected genre show that no network or cable channel would make. It seems to fit the algorithms, starring the internet's boyfriend Noah Centineo as a fresh-faced lawyer for the Office of the General Consul of the CIA who gets sucked into a dangerous situation he's not remotely trained for. Centineo's charm and comedic chops are the Trojan Horse for a cynical, subversive spy thriller that overturns most people's James Bond fantasies.

The Recruit is a Snarky, Subversive Spy Comedy-Thriller
"The Recruit" Cr: Netflix

Centineo plays Owen Hendricks, not a trained agent. His job is to keep the CIA from legal jeopardy. When he finds a former asset threatening to expose the Agency's secrets unless he helps get her out of a US prison, he ends up in an escalating series of disasters that put him in deeper peril. It's a classic Hitchcockian fish-out-of-water plot, here elevated to a darkly comic satire of office politics and spying. Instead of another reassuring, propaganda series about stoical secret agents keeping the country safe, The Recruit portrays the Agency as a snakepit full of back-stabbing, petty-minded, lazy, self-serving assholes who are out for themselves and will do anything to leave someone else holding the back when the shit hits the fan.

The Recruit is a Snarky, Subversive Spy Comedy-Thriller
"The Recruit", cr: Netflix

British actress Laura Haddock has a career-elevating role as the asset Max, a Russian femme fatale who makes Hendricks' life hell as she draws him deeper and deeper into a mess he has dwindling chances of digging himself out of. Her story is the dark counter to Hendricks' screwball comedy and is inextricably linked. Their mismatched partnership becomes the heart of the show as she teaches him her utterly ruthless and amoral survival skills. While the show hangs on Centineo's self-deprecating charm, Haddock brings a gleeful, sly humour to Max as the layers of her antiheroic ruthlessness clash with Hendricks' haplessness.

The Recruit is a combination of a spy thriller, an "Innocent man caught in a caper" thriller, political satire, and millennial comedy drama. In the last category, Hendricks has that Gen Z need to matter and a history of personal trauma to fuel his existential crisis. He's unmoored in the world and likes to put himself in situations just to see if he can wriggle out of them, and that's what gets him into deeper and deeper trouble throughout the series. What he doesn't realise is that only makes him a loose cannon beyond just being the lawyer he claims to be, but a perfect candidate for a spy in the field. And he's terrible at it; his total naivete makes him unpredictable, leading other spies to think he's more mysterious and competent than he really is. He has a post-therapy tendency to overshare his personal problem with anyone and everyone as a running joke. Another running joke is that Hendricks and his civilian Gen Z roommates can't keep their mouths shut. Millennials are the biggest loose cannons of them all here.

The Recruit is a Snarky, Subversive Spy Comedy-Thriller
"The Recruit" cr: Netflix

The Recruit shares a common theme with Slow Horses: it's essentially a comedy about bad office politics. Hendrick's colleagues have it in for him, trying to set him up to take the fall for their mistakes. Hendricks naively shows up at a black site with questions, only to be brutally tortured. A staff meeting has everyone talking in the vaguest, least specific terms about their current cases because no one wants to be legally on the hook for someone else's mess, and they freak out and walk out when Hendricks overshares details of his case. One of his colleagues is a stressed-out mess whose incompetent field team drugs him so they can go off on rogue operations that has him holding the bag.

There's a subplot where Hendricks is press-ganged into dating one of his co-workers before she'll help him with advice. She's very specific in her dating and sexual demands, and she's sick of having to write reports every time she dates anyone outside the Agency. He discovers she has a room in her house made up to look like a TV news studio, and she tells him she practices being a TV talking head in preparation for a cushy TV pundit job. The character is so specific she was probably based on some people in real life.

The Recruit captures something that many spy shows and movies miss, which is that sense of uncertainty and paranoia over who to trust (the answer should always be "nobody!"). The show also teaches viewers about the less-than-savory things spies get up to in ways that feel researched and authentic, all through the hapless eyes of Hendricks as he stumbles from one awful situation to another and needs things explained to him, including how to do espionage properly. And he insists he's just a lawyer all the way. For fans and connoisseurs of spy fiction, The Recruit is a must-watch, especially when the season ends on the direst cliffhanger imaginable. The Recruit is streaming on Netflix.

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Adi TantimedhAbout Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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