Add Intelligence: A Special Agent Special (Peacock) to the two existing six-episode seasons of this British sitcom Intelligence, created, written by, and co-starring Nick Mohammed (Nate on Ted Lasso). This episode (movie?) is a standalone, but it returns the entire cast, including David Schwimmer as a self-involved NSA agent on loan to the UK, and is designed to introduce a full third season. But while this round of Intelligence dropped on Sky in April, and the series has not been canceled, it hasn’t officially been extended, either.
INTELLIGENCE: A SPECIAL AGENT SPECIAL: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: “Why are you tied onto me?” “Oh my god, I was about to ask you the same thing!” Jerry Bernstein (Schwimmer) and Joseph Harries (Mohammed) are roped into a tough spot, back to back at 35,000 feet with no idea of how they got there.
The Gist: “I know what you’re thinking,” Bernstein says in a voiceover that surfaces periodically in Intelligence. “‘This is the best TV show I’ve ever seen! And who’s that hunk?’” The bragging is typical of this besuited American liaison to CySec, a group of signals intelligence analysts and eccentric computer nerds who work at the UK’s Government Security Headquarters. Typical, but misguided, since Jerry Bernstein is pretty obviously not the spy agency wonderboy he purports to be. Nevertheless, his arrogance is tolerated by the cyber security team, which also includes Joseph, Tuva (Gana Bayarsaikhan), Mary (Jane Stanness) and Eveyln (Eliot Salt). Christine (Sylvestra Le Touzel), their immediate boss, has 35 years of intelligence-gathering experience. But her pride takes a shot and her perch comes under threat when power-hungry government minister Joanna Telfer Fotheringham (Jennifer Saunders) uses digital trickery to destabilize CySec and declare its pending replacement by artificial intelligence.
It’s up to the team to stop Joanna and save the department, but to do that Jerry and Joseph must infiltrate a G7 conference in Buckinghamshire posing as two renowned climate scientists who they only vaguely resemble. They’ll gain access by manipulating a security system with a combination of QR code corruption, app misdirection, secret earbud communications, and a temperamental electromagnetic pulse device operated by Mary. No problem, right? That’s all standard spy stuff. Except QRs, apps, comms, and EMPs are all big whammies for the bumbling Jerry and Joseph, who nearly blow the mission before it even gets off the ground.
Jerry, of course, would disagree that he’s mucking it up. He’s a legend in his own mind – indeed, we hear his heroicized inner monologue, and witness daydream scenarios where he takes out adversaries with his “tiger claw” – and he loves to lord his perceived special agent powers over Joseph, who despite a meekness at being the butt of a million jokes is also the American blowhard’s only real friend. Ultimately, it requires the coordination and quick thinking of Christine to reign in Jerry, rally each member of CySec against the machinations of Joanna – did we mention that they’re also sisters? – and save the team from further meddling. But the scheming government minister isn’t through with them yet.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Peacock’s original content offerings often appear through a pipeline from the UK’s Sky – after all, both networks fall under the giant umbrella of the Comcast conglomerate – and so Intelligence is joined on the streamer by a series like Code 404, a near-future cop comedy involving AI antics and co-starring Stephen Graham. And alongside the workplace sniping and tv formula send-ups of Intelligence, you can include stuff like Brooklyn Nine-Nine or even go back to the goofy spy biz charms of Chuck.
Our Take: All of the dialogue in Intelligence: A Special Agent Special is quippy, snappy, and inclusive of the group. For as brash and bigheaded a personality as David Schwimmer’s Jerry Bernstein is, he can never fully take over the CySec meeting room, since everyone at the table is constantly adding in rejoinders and slightly bizarre asides. This plays into Jerry’s overall myopia, of course – when the team learns that Christine’s job is under fire, he’s ready to step into her shoes, even though he probably couldn’t find his own pair without help. But it also reveals the charms of Nick Mohammed’s writing, since as an actor he’s always happy to defer to the ensemble. In Intelligence, Joseph is belittled professionally, patronized by Jerry, and forced to poop out a USB drive that he shouldn’t ever have swallowed in the first place. But he takes it all in stride with a remarkable sweetness that’s funny in its own right and really helps elevate the rest of the cast.
There’s some question as to whether Intelligence will see a full third season. Obviously nothing in streaming land is safe from the axe, and for an imported sitcom that has seen little to no promotion from Peacock the footing is even more unsure. But the cast here has great chemistry, particularly in the group scenes, and the two-man game between Mohammed and Schwimmer is a real highlight, since it’s where Jerry and Joseph can reveal their mutual insecurities and also build the kind of easy banter that two good friends would share. The sense of humor at the heart of Intelligence ends up being more endearing than cuttingly funny, and makes us wish for more misguided adventures from the CySec crew.
Sex and Skin: There is a mild bawdiness in the background to the bulk of Nick Mohammed’s writing for Intelligence, but that’s where the sex stuff stays.
Parting Shot: The gigantic cargo plane Jerry and Joseph have been abandoned to is hurtling through the air above a desert landscape that definitely isn’t the suburbs of London. In the empty cockpit, there’s a Post-It – “Bon Voyage!” – signed by Joanna. The analyst looks at the agent. “Do you think it’s the same Joanna?”
Sleeper Star: in Intelligence, English comedy legend Jennifer Saunders, the creator and star of Absolutely Fabulous, is all grandstanding villainy and conservative talking point acidity. (“Gone are the days of dowdy little snowflakes in a pillbox!”) And though the CySec crew initially meets her attempts to cancel them head on, Joanna Telfer Fotheringham hasn’t been vanquished entirely, which nicely sets up Saunders to keep playing the Intelligence big bad in the event of a greenlit third season.
Most Pilot-y Line: “I should know more in about…a year.” We’re accustomed to the analysts and technicians of spy agency and government business procedurals deftly using data and computer wizardry to uncover hacks and other blackhat chicanery within a matter of seconds. But things are more chaotic in the cyber crimes unit of GCHQ, which adds a cheeky layer of absurdity to having “Intelligence” in this show’s title.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Intelligence: A Special Agent Special sets its clutch of well-realized characters loose on a quickly-paced mashup of workplace comedy tropes and outsized bits aimed squarely at the over seriousness of crusading federal agency TV procedurals.
Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges