Time is truly a flat circle in the week between Christmas and New Year's, particularly if you are on staycation from work. I found myself facing several days with nothing to do — ideal for binge-watching.
Though I watched quite a lot of television for business and for pleasure, this era of Peak TV has too many offerings to consume in waking hours. So, I drew up a list of shows that I'd been meaning to check out all year long — 1899 (which Netflix canceled), Doctor Death (on Peacock), Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (on Paramount Plus), The English (on Prime Video) and Netflix's Extraordinary Attorney Woo (which has my very own name in it!).
But I ended up only binging one show over break: Slow Horses (on Apple TV Plus).
Just a few episodes in, I began kicking myself for sleeping on a brilliant show that certainly deserves its spot on our list of the best TV shows of 2022. If I had watched it sooner, I would've argued for it to ascend that list and possibly challenge the top 10.
Yes, it's that good. Don't make make my mistake of procrastination — here's why you should watch it ASAP.
What is Slow Horses about?
Slow Horses is a spy thriller starring Gary Oldman, and it's been breezily summed up by myself and others as "Tinker Tailor Soldier Failed Spy."
Based on Mick Herron's Slough House books, Slow Horses focuses on an administrative purgatory for MI5 rejects. The office is overseen by Jackson Lamb (Oldman), whose unkempt appearance and drunkenness belie his history as a superior intelligence officer. His team of agents, derisively called the "Slow Horses," have botched their careers in one way or another. MI5's leadership, including operations director Diana Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas), would like nothing better than to pretend they don't exist.
Season 1 begins with up-and-comer River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) making a big mistake during a training exercise. He's then shipped off to Slough House, despite the fact that his grandfather David (Jonathan Pryce) is a decorated MI5 retiree.
There, River is forced to undertake tedious paper-pushing tasks alongside the rest of the Slow Horses. His new colleagues include recovering alcoholic Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves), snarky Louisa Guy (Rosalind Eleazar), the fumbling Min Harper (Dustin Demri-Burns) and obnoxious tech genius Roddy Ho (Christopher Chung).
Season 1's storyline revolves around the kidnapping of a Pakistani college student by far-right white nationalists. Season 2 embroils Lamb and his agents in a decades-old conspiracy hatched by the Russians.
What makes Slow Horses so good
First, let's all bow down to the greatness of Gary Oldman. He has long been considered one of the best actors of his generation, but he's also been less of a leading man than a notorious villain or a wry supporting figure. Though Oldman has turned in memorable film performances since the early 1980s, he wasn't nominated for an Academy Award until 2011's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
His acclaimed performance in the John le Carré adaptation is echoed, though not replicated, in Slow Horses. Like the movie's main character, George Smiley, Jackson Lamb is deeply competent. But that's in spite of all outward appearances. Lamb is a slovenly, disheveled, whiskey-imbibing mess who clearly has many skeletons in his closet (and possibly buried in various backyards).
He's also a sarcasm machine, spitting out cutting one-liners aimed at his agents, the MI5 uppity-ups and (most of all) himself. "My team have already professionally humiliated themselves. That’s why they’re my team," he notes in usual withering fashion during season 2.
Oldman is the grumpy star around which the rest of the cast orbit. His brilliance reflects on them and allows them to shine, too. Lowden is charming and easy on the eyes, Reeve manages to convey fragility and strength at once, Chung is entirely believable as a complete jackass and Scott Thomas is as cool and flinty as ever.
As for the writing, the usual twists and turns of a spy thriller are executed well and sometimes with understated flair. The blocks are built carefully, genuine stakes are laid, red herrings and clues are distributed with finesse and the two finales so far have been triumphs of revelations.
Why you should watch Slow Horses
The most persuasive thing I could possibly say to convince you to watch Slow Horses is this: When I began my binge, I didn't realize season 2's finale hadn't aired yet. When the penultimate episode ended and the next one didn't roll, I screamed "NOOOOO!!!!" out loud at my television.
Then, I spent the next three days before the finale obsessively plumbing the depths of the Slow Horses subreddit.
If you need more convincing beyond the indisputable fact that it's a great show, know that Slow Horses has had two seasons within one year and Apple TV Plus has already ordered the third and fourth installments. I wouldn't be surprised to see season 3 drop this spring (at least part of it has already been filmed, as a teaser played at the end of the two's finale).
So, in the empty vastness that is January television (with a few exceptions like The Last of Us and Winter Love Island 2023), Slow Horses can provide you with a excellent binge of about 10 hours (two seasons with six episodes running around 50 minutes each). And you won't have to wonder if you're investing in something that'll be canceled soon anyway.