Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
In one of those odd juxtapositions that come with the streaming age, a new Netflix drama about an FBI agent in the White House, “The Night Agent,” has a strong “24” vibe, while “Rabbit Hole,” a Paramount+ series thriller featuring the star of that show, Kiefer Sutherland, doesn’t.
Netflix might have cracked the code for another “24”-like franchise with “The Night Agent,” a twisty thriller with high-stakes corruption reaching deep into the corridors of Washington and a stalwart FBI agent who suffers for our sins. Crisply told and smartly cast, the adaptation of Matthew Quirk’s novel issues a call worth answering.
Such a call actually sets the plot in motion, with Peter Sutherland (Gabriel Basso of “Hillbilly Elegy”) having landed the seemingly dead-end job of manning the White House basement and an emergency phone that never rings — until, of course, it finally does.
The SOS comes from Rose Larkin (Luciane Buchanan), a tech entrepreneur (skills that come in handy later) swept up in a violent attack, discovering that her aunt and uncle are not what they seem when assassins come for them.
Peter vaults into action to help Rose, and in shades of “The X-Files,” is quickly told to trust no one, given the long tentacles of the plot with which they have become entangled. That includes warnings from the President’s chief of staff, Diane Farr (Hong Chau, fresh off her “The Whale”-sized Oscar nomination), and a subplot involving the Vice President’s daughter (Sarah Desjardins), a college student who stupidly chafes against her security detail and its dedicated lead agent (Fola Evans-Akingbola), one of those bids for independence that seldom ends well.
Executive produced by “The Shield’s” Shawn Ryan, “The Night Agent” has more in common with “24” than just a principled lead enduring (and dishing out) lots of punishment, with a protagonist that’s credibly heroic but still a trifle overwhelmed and human.
Like so many of these shows, the less one dwells on the details, probably the better. That said, it works quite well as a pass-the-popcorn diversion, with good chemistry between Basso and Buchanan and a major threat to drive the narrative all the way through the 10-episode run.
Perhaps inevitably, there are some clunkier aspects. Chau isn’t particularly well served by her character’s perpetual snarl, and a pair of romantically involved assassins (Phoenix Raei, Eve Harlow) feel as if they parachuted in from some twisted satire of Rocky & Bullwinkle.
Still, the series potentially gives Netflix its own answer to the kind of spy fare that has long been a TV staple, from Jack Bauer to Jack Ryan, teasing the story out in a way a movie can’t.
Netflix courts various audience niches, but this more closely approximates the meat-and-potatoes fare that has found success on more traditional platforms. That might not be Emmy bait, but as a bingeworthy addition to the menu, “The Night Agent” gets the job done.
Speaking of “24,” Kiefer Sutherland is back in “Rabbit Hole,” an unfortunately apt name for a series that descends into a mystery that, at least initially, doesn’t feel distinctive enough to merit taking the plunge.
Sutherland plays John Weir, an expert in corporate espionage who finds himself in the crosshairs of a shadowy conspiracy, forcing him to go on the run to try clearing his name after he’s framed for murder.
There’s a ’70s-style paranoid thriller baked into the show’s DNA (think “Three Days of the Condor”), down to the woman (Meta Golding) whose one-night stand with Weir drags her into the plot. Charles Dance (“Game of Thrones”) also enters the chat in the later episodes, but by then, “Rabbit Hole” is already confusing enough that it’s barely worth the effort to try sorting things out.
Paramount+ has built its lineup around veteran star power, from Kevin Costner to Sylvester Stallone, and Sutherland brings ample equity to this genre, including his recent stint in “Designated Survivor.”
Still, halfway through its eight-episode season, “Rabbit Hole” feels like one of those marketable combinations of talent and concept that, when it comes to execution, seems to be going nowhere fast.
“The Night Agent” premieres March 23 on Netflix.
“Rabbit Hole” premieres March 26 on Paramount+.
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