As the tufted leather door closes on Daniel Craig’s 15-year saga of James Bond films, the eyes of 007 super-fans are drifting expectantly toward franchise shepherds Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. As usual, the duo’s between-films press strategy has been to deny everything and reveal nothing — so, sure, they’re saying they won’t start looking for a new Bond until next year, even though odds are good that they already have their eyes on multiple candidates, and they’re saying that they have no interest in making Bond in any form other than “films for the cinema” even though there may be tragically few cinemas left in this world by the time the next production is in the can.
To be clear, I am a Bond super-fan myself, and I certainly would never hope that the franchise be forced into the streaming world. I’m relieved that No Time To Die got a proper theatrical release, and I can’t imagine the film’s cornucopia of red-meat Bond moments being nearly as delicious if consumed on my couch. Generally speaking, I just don’t think the “pretend a TV screen is a theater” strategy that Netflix has deployed with Extraction, Six Underground, and other massive-budget endeavors would work very well with Bond movies. (I’m not sure it works very well with those movies either, but I’d have to make myself sit through an entire one to be sure.) But I do think there are some solid reasons why James Bond stories could be told quite well on the small screen.
First off, let us not forget that Bond began life as a literary character. It was never a foregone conclusion that Ian Fleming’s debonair spy would end up a matinee idol, and as such, the books tend to be well-crafted slow-burns that value tension over spectacle. Many of them had their plots discarded entirely on the way to the big screen, and even the few that were faithfully adapted lost some of their more charming complexities. (In From Russia With Love, the James Bond of the page has decidedly mixed feelings about using his sexual charisma to recruit Russian agent Tatiana Romanova — he dubs the mission “pimping for England” — whereas in the film, he’s almost cartoonishly on board as soon as he sees Tatiana’s photo.) Disentangled from a 60-year cinematic history of exploding volcanoes and submarine-cars, the novels could easily provide the basis for thrilling-yet-grounded entertainment along the lines of, say, The Americans (which was also rooted in its creator’s real-life experience as an intelligence operative).
Aside from facilitating more thoughtful and subtle storytelling, a fresh start on the small screen could open up a number of exciting possibilities for the franchise. James Bond period pieces, long considered a pipe dream in the movie world, would be right at home in a streaming ecosystem that churns out loving reconstructions of bygone eras in every conceivable genre. Dropping Bond back into his original timeline of the 1950s would provide the opportunity to showcase vintage Bentleys and smoke-filled nightclubs; it would also, like Perry Mason or Mad Men, serve as a chance to take an unflinching look at everything that was problematic about the character himself and the world he inhabited. The very idea of 007 having, in the words of Dr. No’s tagline, “a license to kill when he chooses, where he chooses, whom he chooses” is pretty ripe for interrogation in our disillusioned post-Snowden world.
But if this concept is starting to feel too much like a televised Washington Post op-ed, here’s something to spice things up: sex! The 007 films (and movies in general) have become more and more puritanical over the years, likely in the name of preserving their sacred PG-13 rating, whereas on TV we’re living through a never-ending Summer of Love. With improved gender balance behind-the-scenes, plenty of shows are proving they can be super-hot without catering only to the male gaze, and this modern blueprint could easily be applied to the more lurid aspects of the Bond tales. When James stepped out of the ocean in Casino Royale, the faintest outline of his junk was enough to break the internet; just imagine the seismic impact of The Full Bondy.
If Bond does end up on a flatscreen near you, the most likely outlet will be Amazon Prime, now that Emperor Bezos has swallowed up MGM and the 007 distribution rights along with it. While it’s true that Amazon has a dreadful track record when it comes to promoting their shows (they probably have over 200 on the air right now but with a gun to my head I could not name more than five), the company spends at least as lavishly on original series as any of its competitors; also, as both the highs and lows of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel can attest, they appear to be pretty hands-off with showrunners. Would the appeal of plenty of funding with minimal interference be enough to convince Broccoli and Wilson to bring their crown jewel to a new platform? I’d like to think so, especially since a small-screen take on the Bond-verse could easily live separately-but-harmoniously alongside the films. If 007 is good, wouldn’t double-007 be even better?
Nick Rheinwald-Jones is Co-Artistic Director of Spy Brunch LLC, a Los Angeles immersive theatre company. He has written about film and TV for Vulture, The AV Club, Decider, and Previously.TV.