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Apple TV+'s Slow Horses is an instant classic in the modern spy genre

  • "In its many strengths, Slow Horses joins a very short list of recent TV series from the espionage genre which rise to the level of greatness," says Shane Ryan of the Gary Oldman-led Apple TV+ adaptation of Mick Herron’s spy novels from British writer Will Smith. "Some, like The Night Manager and Little Drummer Girl, are LeCarre adaptations, while others like, The Bureau, are overseas gems that seem to have come out of nowhere. While there will certainly be some disagreement here, I put these in a class above the merely 'good' shows, like The Americans or Killing Eve or even Homeland, which too easily lose their touch with reality or succumb to the temptation of putting style above story. It’s a great joy to report that Slow Horses rises above these limitations and takes its rightful place in the upper echelons. Even more impressive, it does so through the strength of wounded people. These are misfits, outcasts, and self-loathers, people who were once promising and have been thrown on the dust heap with the earnest hope that they’ll never make noise again. But humanity beats within them..."


    • Gary Oldman is terrific, but Slow Horses is hampered by having a six-episode season: "The show around Oldman is not entirely up to the standards set by his performance, but it’s not too far off — Slow Horses is a highly satisfying celebration and sendup of the John le Carré novels that clearly inspired it," says Mike Hale. "It’s a complicated conspiracy thriller crossed with an office comedy, and it lightly dusts grungy realism with off-kilter, absurdist touches that only occasionally misfire. It also showcases a great cast — Oldman is joined by, among others, Kristin Scott Thomas as MI5’s steely head of operations, Jonathan Pryce as a retired spymaster and Jack Lowden as a young agent recently arrived at Slough House, and they’re all fantastic. If there’s a problem with the show, it’s the inverse of what’s sometimes referred to as Netflix bloat. Slow Horses demonstrates that six episodes — a standard length for British crime dramas — isn’t necessarily enough time to adapt a complexly plotted, fully characterized book."
    • Slow Horses puts a different spin on the spy as doofus trope: "These spies aren’t idiots, necessarily. But they are f*ck-ups," says Oli Welsh. "Maybe they drink too much, maybe they don’t have the nerves for it, maybe they made one unforgivable mistake. Maybe they’re just mediocre. They’re not bad enough to give the sack, but not good enough to give anything important to do. Rather than mine this situation for workplace comedy, Slow Horses thrusts its unlikely heroes into a fairly straight espionage thriller and asks them to keep up. Sometimes the results are funny, undercutting the pomposity of the genre. And sometimes they’re pretty sharp."
    • Slow Horses is brilliant, grumpy and very British: "Two very different versions of England have launched on American streaming platforms this week," says Adam White. "The London of Disney Plus’ Marvel series Moon Knight is a tourist fantasy – an open-top bus of a city, one populated by EastEnders caricatures and Oscar Isaac as the scarily accented love child of Russell Brand and Anne Hathaway in One Day. Comparatively, Apple TV’s Slow Horses, a pitch-black comedy about not-very-good spies, is English to its core. Everyone is miserable, the streets are dirty, and the camera filter is the colour of a damp paperback stuffed in the backroom of an Oxfam. It feels like home. Perhaps it’s that stench of failure that feels distinctly English, too."
    • The dramatic payoffs are stupendous on Slow Horses: "When you think a mission will go right, sure, there’s a chance it really will," says Alison Foreman. "When you fear an undeserving character might die, they very well may. Yet somehow, despite the occasional predictabilities, Slow Horses remains an edge-of-your-seat watch—with a killer finale that’s gut-wrenching start to end. Of course, the performances best sell this style. Oldman, who at 64-years-old has won or been nominated for most major awards, shines exactly as you’d expect."
    • Slow Horses is John le Carré meets Elmore Leonard: "With its intricate spycraft, taut plotting and bumbling but deadly criminals, the new Apple TV+ series Slow Horses plays like a serendipitous meeting between John le Carré and Elmore Leonard," says Chris Vognar. "It’s not a comedy, but humor is never far from the surface. It moves fast, spearheaded by a rogue’s gallery of agents who have fallen out of favor with England’s Security Service, the MI5. They’ve all found their way into the doghouse, and minding the kennel is the biggest screwup of them all."
    • Slow Horses starts off great, but it becomes less distinct toward the end: "While Slow Horses has a sharp perception of one side of the show’s equation, once the true target of this web comes into focus, it becomes clear that this season has more on its mind than sticking to spies," says Steve Greene. "What starts out as a surer, more meticulous hand gives way to a blunter, bigger-picture reframing of where the country’s security apparatus might be better aimed. It’s a not-unfounded idea, but the closer that things get to the fateful showdown set in motion in the opening chapters, Slow Horses paints in louder, less-assured strokes. In a case of form matching subject, Slow Horses is quick with a misdirect. The closer that this story gets to its endpoint, the more that its overall 'things aren’t quite as they seem' setup becomes more of a bug than a feature. That doubling down, whether it’s Lamb’s gassiness or doors opened to surprise guests or the thin motives of its antagonists, does stretch this show at points further than it may intend."
    • Slow Horses is a rewarding slow burn: "From The Dirty Dozen to The Boys to The Suicide Squad, audiences love a good semi-comic thriller about a ragtag team of rejects surprised to discover that their quirky set of mismatched skills actually mesh flawlessly to help outcasts accomplish what the establishment cannot," says Daniel D'Addario. "Apple TV+’s Slow Horses, adapted by Will Smith — no, not that one — from the first book in Mick Herron’s British espionage series, is one of those stories, though it derives much of its murky amusement from how non-flashy and non-cool its central conceit is. It’s a droll and dour story about people who wanted to be James Bond and, instead, ended up in the most depressing workplace this side of Apple TV+’s Severance. Some of the humor from Herron’s book gets lost in translation to a six-episode season, but Slow Horses still has enough twists and turns and gritty London texture to keep its excellent ensemble busy."
    • Slow Horses starts off sluggishly, but becomes more intriguing with each episode: "The plot moves a bit sluggishly at first, though I should say that I’ve read and enjoyed several of Herron’s books, including the one that’s the basis of this first season," says Alan Sepinwall. "This is a case of an adaptation perhaps being more appealing to those who don’t know the source material — not because it’s of lesser quality, but because it’s so faithful that the early unfolding of the plot feels a bit obligatory. But by the time the Slow Horses have discovered their connection to the kidnapping — and, more importantly, have realized that they still like acting like spies when the rare opportunity arises — the rest of the season is on rails. There’s also an impressive command of tone throughout, so that one scene can center on a ridiculous joke involving a Nineties folk rock hit, and the next can be a chilling suspense set piece involving the kidnappers threatening their captive. Everything complements everything else and makes it more interesting, rather than the humor making the plot feel dumb, or the life-and-death stakes making the gags seem in poor taste."
    • Slow Horses took over a small airport and Wembley Stadium to film its "magic trick" of an opening scene

    TOPICS: Slow Horses, Apple TV+, Gary Oldman, Will Smith_(writer)