Netflix, like every streaming service, has a hit-or-miss track record when it comes to offering spy and spy-adjacent shows. Some of them, like Kleo, have a stylized aesthetic and avoid pandering to the lowest common denominator. Others, like The Recruit, pack in as many well-worn tropes of the genre as possible, aiming for schlocky entertainment value instead of anything resembling verisimilitude. Netflix’s newest title in this genre is The Night Agent, a 10-episode TV series based on Matthew Quirk’s novel of the same name that the streaming giant debuted on Thursday.
Should you put this one on your watchlist? If you’re a fan of the genre — and tons of you apparently are, based on the record-setting Season 1 debut for The Night Agent — this one definitely deserves to be checked out. Especially if you were a fan of similarly themed Netflix releases like the streamer’s action-packed spy blockbuster The Gray Man. The show is so big, in fact, because in addition to the record it set during its first few days of streaming availability, Netflix has already gone ahead and ordered a second season, as well.
Fast facts about The Night Agent
The basics: Creator Shawn Ryan has described the series, which stars Gabriel Basso and Luciane Buchanan, as “All The President’s Men with car chases.”
The novel it’s based on is like one of those pulpy spy novels that airport bookshops and newsstands are filled with (but that’s not meant as a criticism — far from it, in fact). As far as the plot goes, The Night Agent is about a low-level FBI agent named Peter Sutherland who works nights in the basement of the White House, manning a phone line for undercover spies that never rings. One day, however, it does ring, setting into motion a chain of events uncovering a conspiracy that reaches all the way to the Oval Office.
The series — part of this month’s buzzy Netflix releases that have also included titles like Waco: American Apocalypse — is reminiscent of the kind of formulaic storytelling that fans of the Jack Ryan, Reacher, and Bourne Identity books will recognize, albeit without the same kind of secret agent who comes off as a borderline superhero in so many of these kinds of stories.
Basso’s Peter is an FBI agent who doesn’t exist as some kind of “unbeatable killing machine,” as Ryan puts it. He’s an underdog, not a trained assassin. You also get the sense that the young woman he’s trying to protect may or may not make it to the end of the novel, and so the story keeps you locked in and turning the pages.
#1 in the world
As we’ve detailed in a separate post, recapping the latest findings associated with Netflix’s weekly global Top 10 ranking, The Night Agent is currently the #1 Netflix show in the world. Moreover, the nearly 169 million hours it racked up over its first week marked the third-best Week 1 show debut on Netflix ever.
The Night Agent is also a Top 10 Netflix series in 93 countries at the moment, according to data from the streamer.
As for the Rotten Tomatoes results, the series currently has an 82% audience score and a 67% critics’ score as of this writing. Opines a Chicago Sun-Times reviewer, “In the second half of the series, the action is ramped up and the plot twists bend credulity close to the breaking point — but we stick with it, and we’re rewarded with some payoffs.” All in all, coming from someone who also read the book, I’d say that’s a fair assessment.
“Thanks to all our #TheNightAgent fans who answered the call and went on this journey with us,” Ryan tweeted on Thursday, before referencing the upcoming season. “Can’t wait to do this all over again! Ten more episodes coming your way.”
One thing that’s especially remarkable: If events had taken just a slightly different turn, this huge Netflix hit might not have ended up with the streamer at all. Per reporting from our sister publication Deadline, the series’ original pilot was sent out to as many as a dozen places back in early 20201. All passed, except two: NBCU, and Netflix.
Netflix execs apparently had concerns about what they saw as a split focus in the pilot regarding the Secret Service storyline, as well as the story between Peter and Rose. It was conveyed that pushing the Secret Service part of the plot until a little further into the series would probably help the series perform better on Netflix.
Ryan trimmed the script by six or so pages for Netflix, while also fleshing out some of the conversations between Peter and Rose. Long story short, The Night Agent’s production team ended up casting their lot with Netflix, where it was also felt like the show could become a 24-style franchise for the streamer — something it doesn’t have at the moment. The fact that the show also launched with a lack of big stars in the two lead roles is also attributable to a maxim from Ryan, about how “TV makes stars more than it takes stars,” as he explained it to Deadline.
What I’ll be watching for next: Based on how strong of a showing The Night Agent gave us over its first week, there’s at least an outside chance that it might end up on Netflix’s list of the Top 10 shows of all time (based on viewership over their first month of streaming availability). Next week will give us a better indication.