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Lamb. Jackson Lamb.

I binge-watched this great British spy series

Slow Horses stars Gary Oldman as the anti-James Bond.

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I’m a huge fan of spy movies and shows. Although I like James Bond just fine, I really go for the characters who rely on their brains, aren’t especially good in a fistfight, and don’t fill out a tuxedo too well.

Jackson Lamb, the lead character in the Apple TV+ series Slow Horses, is an extreme version of one of those spies. He rarely bathes. His shirt is always covered with crumbs, and he wears a stained trench coat that hasn’t been washed in years. He’s a smoker and an alcoholic. He has a terrible temper and is nasty to his subordinates. He doesn’t even attempt to hide his flatulence. If you asked an AI to invent the opposite of James Bond, it would give you Jackson Lamb.

But Lamb has one thing in common with 007: He is really good at his job. Played by Gary Oldman, he’s the head of Slough House, a fictional group inside the British intelligence agency that people get sent to when they mess up badly, but not quite badly enough to get fired. It’s a bureaucratic dumping ground where the agents aren’t expected to do any real work—they’re just biding their time until they can get reassigned. Slow Horses gets its title from the derisive nickname that the rest of British intelligence uses for Slough House agents.

The show reminds me of John le Carré novels, which have lots of complex characters and complicated plots. (In fact, Slow Horses is based on a series of novels by British novelist Mick Herron.) Lamb clearly resents getting stuck with this dead-end job—you eventually find out how he ended up there—but he’s incredibly capable and takes his work seriously. Just when it seems like things can’t turn out well, you find out that he has outsmarted everybody. And he manages to get the best out of his people in a tough love kind of way.

One of Lamb’s key agents is River Cartwright, who’s assigned to Slough House after taking the blame for a big foul-up in the show’s opening scene. River makes a lot of mistakes, often with serious consequences, but he’s a good agent and you’re always rooting for him. His grandfather was a legendary intelligence agent, and River struggles to live up to his expectations.

The other characters are well fleshed out too—well enough that when one of the agents is killed, you really feel it. (At least I did!) You also meet some powerful and fascinating people at the main office who plot and scheme against each other to gain power. Kristin Scott Thomas is especially good as Lamb’s clever boss, Diana Taverner.

Although I don’t know anything about the world of spies, most of the spycraft seems pretty believable—there are no tricked-out Aston Martins in this show. Still, I had to laugh at the way Slough House’s computer expert can hack into any device anywhere in record time. It moves the plot along, but it’s hard to believe.

Whenever I’m talking with someone about great spy movies, I always mention two that both happen to star Robert Redford: Three Days of the Condor, which was a hit in 1975, and a hidden gem called Spy Game, which came out in 2001. Now I’m going to add Slow Horses. It’s up there with the best spy stuff I’ve seen.