One of the defining characteristics of the ABC franchise The Rookie is that both shows have totally lovely lead actors and more than enough entertainingly light stuff to make viewers forget about the shows’ inherently absurd procedural elements. Alexi Hawley, the creator of The Rookie and The Rookie: Feds, has devised a new series about a young CIA attorney who loses no time getting involved in the agency’s most sensitive activities. Does it possess the same delicacy as Hawley’s other works?
THE RECRUITER: TO STREAM OR NOT TO STREAM?
Special operations personnel clad in winter camouflage aim their weapons towards a location where a woman is driving in for a meeting. Meanwhile, a man is peeing in the snow and singing “Trouble” behind a truck.
Owen Hendricks (Noah Centineo) observes a problem and attempts to contact the commander, but she tells him to disconnect. “This is the result of bringing a lawyer on an operation,” she explains. Consequently, he takes matters into his own hands.
Two weeks earlier, Hendricks is on his second day of work at the CIA’s general counsel’s office, where he joined directly from law school. General counsel Walter Nyland (Vondie Curtis-Hall) instructs him to travel to Capitol Hill to prevent Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Senator Smoot (Lincoln Roache) from reading classified information into the public record.
Two veteran lawyers, Lester (Colton Dunn) and Violet (Aarti Mann), catch wind of this and decide to give the newbie some scut work, consisting of hundreds of letters from “Crazies” who send threatening grey mail to the agency; his duty is to determine if the danger is real. The most are not, but he gets a letter from Max Meladze (Laura Haddock), who is serving time in Arizona for murder. With the assistance of his exceedingly paranoid colleague Janus Ferber (Kristian Bruun), he investigates the operations listed in her letter.
She discovers that the contact and ops name are authentic, but contain information that an asset should not know. When he reports it to Nyland, he instructs Hendricks to continue and returns the file to Lester and Violet. When Hendricks chooses to go to Yemen himself to find Meladze’s former operative, the two give him no further advice than to “fly coach.” When he arrives unannounced to the dark site where the operative is stationed without a passport that would provide him diplomatic protection, he incurs problems and loses a fingernail.
Eventually, the operative provides him with further information about Melazde, and he travels to Arizona to speak with her. She claims to have classified information and sends him to a storage facility to acquire them, but it turns out to be a bag of cash that two thugs beat him to obtain. However, he escapes and informs Melazde that she needs him more than she is letting on. She also reveals the alias of her handler, which she has no right to know; Ferber informs Hendricks that it relates to an incredibly senior government official.
What Shows Does It Bring to Mind? It is not a stretch to compare The Recruit’s comedy-thriller atmosphere to that of The Rookie, but with more profanity. The creator of The Recruit is Alexi Hawley, who is also a writer and showrunner for The Rookie and The Rookie: Feds.
When we watched the first episode of The Recruit, we had the unsettling impression that the version of the CIA that Hawley is presenting to the audience is fictitious. Hendricks is a lawyer, not a spy, but it appears that this series will be filled with instances in which this inexperienced rookie either stumbles onto or actively seeks out large, perilous situations that he ends up integrating himself into.
We are uncertain as to whether Hendricks is so adept at unearthing facts that other attorneys in that office cannot, or whether he is simply the recipient of dumb luck. As it stands, we doubt that members of the office of the general counsel are en route to Yemen to conduct interviews at black sites.
Centineo is credible as an exuberant newbie who appears to thrive on continually being in over his head, while Haddock as Melazde is an excellent asset/opponent. He even lives with his ex-girlfriend Hannah (Fivel Stewart) and her current partner Terence (Daniel Quincy Annoh). Centineo portrays Hendricks as a man who may not always fit the pattern of a tough CIA operator, but who is always in the right place at the right time, even if his techniques are clumsy at best and deadly at worst.
The remainder of the ensemble, including the usually-excellent trio of Dunn, Mann, and Curtis-Hall, doesn’t have much to do in the pilot, but their roles are set up well enough to lead to interesting scenarios in subsequent episodes. However, we anticipate seeing more of Bruun as the highly paranoid Ferber (more on that in a second).
Sex and Skin: Nothing in the first episode, with the exception of Hendricks’ suit and shirt being stripped off by the operative in Yemen before she ripped out his fingernail.
Hendricks calls Melazde as a parting shot; if she can tell him the truth about whether she can be trusted, he will assist her. Her reaction was, “When our interests coincide. “If not, no.” This is sufficient for Hendricks to declare, “I’m in.”
Sleeper Star: Bruun’s level of comedic relief as Ferber differs from that of Dunn and Mann; Lester and Violet are merely co-workers who are intimidated by this new go-getter, whereas Bruun believes that the operators he advises are out to drug him and carry out operations he is attempting to halt. However, his paranoia is not entirely unwarranted, which lends his character more complexity than one might expect.
Even to Nyland, Hendricks’ explanation concerning his hand is that he “closed it in a car door.” If this occurs, it will take several days for your fingernail to turn black before falling off. Therefore, he must develop a better cover narrative.
Our Request: STREAM IT.
The Recruit is a mostly silly show, but Centineo has more than enough charisma to carry viewers through the more absurd elements of the season’s ongoing plot, and there are enough veteran actors in the supporting cast for us to believe that the comedy-thriller tone of the pilot can be maintained throughout the season.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes on cuisine, entertainment, parenting, and technology, but he’s not going to lie: he’s a TV addict. His work has been published in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, and Fast Company, among other publications.