This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason While the series doesn't premiere in the U.S. until a few hours after this post's publication, it's already aired in its entirety in the UK.
Should You Indulge In The Night Manager's Top Secret Amenities?
The British miniseries adapts a John le Carré spy novel, but does it crack the code?
What Is This Thing?
In 2011, just as the Arab Spring was blooming in Egypt, ex-British soldier Jonathan Pine was working as the night manager in a fancy Cairo hotel. While bombs exploded outside, Sophie -- a sexy guest and the mistress of a fearsome Egyptian thug -- passed him documents that proved Richard Roper, a powerful arms dealer, was selling weapons to the thug's formidable family. Appalled by this attempt to quash the people's revolution, Pine passed the files to a friend in MI6. This turned out to be a bad idea, as someone inside British intelligence immediately tipped off Roper, which led to Sophie's assault by her boyfriend. Startled, Jonathan tried to get her out of the country, but this was also a bad idea...
...and then we jump ahead to 2015. Shell-shocked, Pine has relocated to a desolate hotel in Switzerland where, one assumes, he night-manages a lot of caribou or whatever they get up there. One night, though, a helicopter brings in Richard Roper himself. Before he knows it, Pine is teaming with Angela Burr, an actually trustworthy MI6 agent, to bring this bastard down. But can a simple hotel clerk really conquer such a villain?
When Is It On?
The six-part miniseries airs Tuesdays at 10 PM on AMC.
Why Was It Made Now?
Just like The Honourable Woman, another respected BBC miniseries, this one uses the thrill of tradecraft to explore the dense political thicket of European involvement in the Middle East. In this golden age of television, why wouldn't a network want to deliver such classy entertainment? To that end, it's clear why AMC would be attracted, since it's still trying to prove Mad Men and Breaking Bad were merely the start of its dominance in the field of award-worthy drama.
What's Its Pedigree?
John Le Carré, who wrote the book that provides the source material for the series, is the standard-bearer for "thinking man's suspense," and screenwriter David Farr has offset his successful theater career by writing the cracking good movie Hanna and several great seasons of MI-5. Susanne Bier directs the entire series, and though her Jennifer Lawrence movie Serena was a flop, her drama In A Better World won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
The cast, meanwhile, includes Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine and Hugh Laurie as Richard Roper. (Sadly, Richard Roeper, Ebert's old sidekick, does not make a cameo.) Further down the list, you've got supporting players like Russell Tovey, Tom Hollander, and Tony Award winner Douglas Hodge.
This is entirely my cup of tea. The pilot, at least, has the perfect blend of crackling intrigue and juicy ideas. On one hand, we can gasp as Pine steals the SIM cards from Roper's disposable cell phones, and on the other, we can savor his declaration that he's risking his career to protect the noble Britain he believes can still exist. His righteous fury invites us to question our own commitment to national ideals. It is also sexy as hell. Exhibit A:
Speaking of sexy: the costume designers deserve a Nobel Prize for the suits they've put on Hiddleston. He's also got just the right energy to wear them -- coiled, alert, but invisible in the way a good hotel manager should be. You believe he can see it all without ever being seen by the people who dismiss him as the help.
Then there's Laurie, who makes an indelible impression despite only appearing in a handful of scenes in the series premiere. He has incredible charisma, but the way he employs it -- nonchalantly insulting his right-hand man, casually questioning Pine's sexual prowess -- is kind of horrifying. You can see the coldness it would take to sell weapons to anyone with money.
I also like Angela, who is presented as a loud-mouthed true believer in a world full of slick and smiling snake-charmers. It seems correct that her hair is funky and her sweaters are dumpy. Who's got time for fashion when there's a world to be saved?
All this comes across, of course, because of the fleet script and sharp directing. One image that particularly lingers for me: as Pine stands in Roper's hotel room, he sees a ghostly image of Sophie, whose fate is Roper's fault. Her appearance is handled quietly, less like a horror movie than a dream sequence, and this tells me the creative team prefers emotional weight to tawdry shock.
Considering how important it is to the story, Pine's relationship with Sophie feels rushed. Do we really believe he could care this deeply about someone he's known for so little time? Nor does it help that she's saddled with so much exposition. She's too busy explaining who everyone is to have her own identity. But whatever: Pine's idealism and sleuth-y wiles are believable from the get-go, and they're going to carry us further than his fling with this mysterious lady.
By the time this is over, don't be surprised if there are pictures of Tom Hiddleston wearing fancy suits plastered all over my house.