Ever since Sean Connery lit a cigarette at a chemin de fer table and first introduced himself as “Bond, James Bond” on “Dr. No”, spies have rarely been far from the big or small screen, in all shapes and genders, served up alone or as parodies. In the space of a week, Netflix released two such series: the straightforward conspiracy thriller “The Night Agent” and the cartoon “Agent Elvis,” a “double agent” bill, they can’t help but tell me.
Created by Shawn “The Shield” Ryan and based on a 2019 novel by Matthew Quirk (an Atlantic reporter turned suspense machine), “The Night Agent” is not worse than professional but also professional. It’s nothing special, nothing horrible, and exactly what many want from television, with action in its own right: twists and turns and various threads tangled, unraveled, and finally tied into a bow. The characters are generic—brave heroes, superior superiors, inscrutable politicians, eccentric assassins—which isn’t itself a problem; it’s just that it becomes uninteresting with them.
Gabriel Basso stars as Peter Sutherland, an FBI agent we meet on a DC Metro train, who gives up his seat to a woman laden with packages, then makes funny faces at her son to show his kindness. Seeing a suspicious person suspiciously placing a package under a seat, Peter determines that it is a bomb, so he pulls the emergency brake and gets all but one person out alive before things explode. This doesn’t make him the national hero you might expect, but rather the target of trolls who believe he had something to do with the bombing. (His late father of his was a famous traitor, and he’s tarred with that brush.)
Meanwhile, Rose Larkin (Luciane Buchanan), who is about to give a Ted talk, is signing documents that will fund her cybersecurity company. This character point seems specifically designed to validate the computer magic she will later be asked to display.
We jump forward a year. Rose has been kicked out of her company (there was an incident), and Peter, who now answers to both the president’s chief of staff (Oscar nominee Hong Chau in a blonde wig) and the gruff FBI deputy director (Robert Patrick), is working. the night shift in a locked room under the White House. In addition to heavy paperwork, Peter’s job is to answer a phone that “never rings” except he does, and it’s Rose. She has been staying with her aunt and uncle who, in the first of many cases where things are not as they seem, turn out to be the kind of people mysterious forces could target for murder. Under attack, Rose is sent running with a phone number and code, and the knowledge that no one in the White House can be trusted.
Before long, Peter and Rose become a Hitchcockian couple on the run, albeit with less romantic banter, as if lightness somehow insulted severity; but the jokes that there are do not justify more of the same. Still, Basso and Buchanan have some chemistry, and their likeability is what keeps the series afloat through a succession of foot chases and car chases, encounters in dark houses and dark woods, fistfights and shootouts.
Given the work of filling out an already overlong four-movie modern Bond series, this can all start to feel repetitive, and when the dark plot at the back of it all was finally revealed, it seemed to me that the villains spent a lot of money. of energy and shed a lot of blood for pretty meh reasons. On the other hand, John Hinckley Jr. shot Ronald Reagan to impress Jodie Foster: truth may be more banal than fiction.
Conspiracy theories have long surrounded Elvis Presley, whose posthumous sightings have made him the Bigfoot of rock ‘n’ roll. He’s brought back to life as a super-spy in the animated, vulgar and bloody “Agent Elvis,” which can be phrased simply as “Archer,” but with Elvis, a phrase I imagine uttered at the launch meeting, after having been scribbled on a bedside notepad at 3 a.m. (“Archer” writer Mike Arnold is the showrunner; the series was co-created by Elvis’s widow, Priscilla Presley, who also stars as herself, and musician John Eddie).
Set in the early years of the King’s return period, beginning with the 1968 Christmas special, it finds Elvis (Matthew McConaughey) being recruited into a mysterious organization, TCB, which has regulated human affairs for generations. There’s a season-long arc, taking the action from Bel Air to Graceland, and from Las Vegas to Washington, DC, but also to places Presley never visited in real life: Altamont, California, Vietnam, Algeria, and Spahn Ranch.
From my point of view, “Agent Elvis” succeeds more as a curiosity than as a comedy, that is to say, I found it funny only occasionally (the blood spatters do not convince me, I confess), but in general interesting, if only to watch it . what scenes and references might appear next. We get Howard Hughes (Jason Mantzoukas) as the agency’s resident mad scientist, with an emphasis on madness; Timothy Leary (Chris Elliott); the Manson Family; and the Black Panthers: there is some discussion of cultural appropriation, resolved in favor of Elvis by the appearance of George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic, voiced by George Clinton.
Some younger viewers may find the references to Melvin Dummar, cryogenically frozen Walt Disney, the cast wheels, and “Easy Rider” perplexing. As for elements of the series whose veracity any viewer might question, Elvis once had a chimpanzee named Scatter, although there is no indication that he was, like the animated monkey, addicted to cocaine; he and Priscilla once tried LSD; and by some accounts, he had problems with Robert Goulet (Ed Helms).
The series looks good, especially in its caricature of Elvis, all mid-century lines and angles. (Robert Valley designed the character, and fashion designer John Varvatos received a screen credit for his wardrobe.) McConaughey’s performance, which is more McConaughey than Presley, is like honey in the ear. The supporting cast is stellar, also including Kaitlin Olson as CeCe Ryder in a cat suit; Niecy Nash as Bertie, who takes care of business; Johnny Knoxville as Bobby Ray, a “hillbilly genius” who more or less represents the Memphis mob; Tom Kenny as Scatter; and Don Cheadle as the Commander. Guests include Simon Pegg as a hallucinated Paul McCartney, Fred Armisen as Charles Manson, Christina Hendricks, Kieran Culkin, Craig Robinson and Baz Luhrmann, the director of the movie “Elvis”.
The series was co-created by Priscilla Presley, which gives it the heirloom nod, though who’s to say what Elvis might have done? He liked guns and sometimes shot a TV screen. He famously offered himself to Richard Nixon as an agent in the war on drugs and communism, and when he picked up an award from the Junior Chamber of Commerce, he declared, “When I was a kid…I read comics and there was the comic book hero. I watched movies and I was the hero of the movie.” And here he is, the hero of a comic book TV show, even though he’s often sold behind a curtain. On the other hand, he might have watched the drug jokes, the jokes sexual, dismemberment jokes and insistent use of F words and a shake of the head at what passed for entertainment in 2023. We will never know.
‘The agent of the night’
When: Anytime from Thursday
Classification: TV-MA (may not be suitable for children under 17 with notices of violence and foul language)
Classification: TV-MA (may not be suitable for children under 17 with notices of gore, smoking, nudity, violence and foul language)