Slow Horses gets a rare 5th season. What makes the spy series so bingeable? | Web Series - Hindustan Times
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Apple TV's Slow Horses gets a rare 5th season. What makes the Gary Oldman spy series so bingeable?

Jan 05, 2024 02:02 PM IST

A fifth season renewal is almost unheard of in the current streaming landscape, but the Gary Oldman-led espionage series is undeniable in its brilliance.

After a high-octane season 3 that came to a smashing end in the last week of December, Apple recently announced a fifth season pickup for the hit show based on Mick Herron’s book series of the same name. The fourth season, which is already in the can, is set to release at the end of 2024. (Also read: Gary Oldman says he wants to retire from acting in near future)

Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas in a still from Slow Horses.
Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas in a still from Slow Horses.

About Slow Horses

Slow Horses centers on a group of disgraced MI5 agents who have been relegated to doing inconsequential and menial work at Slough House, which earns them the insulting moniker Slow Horses. The band of misfit agents nevertheless manage to find themselves at the center of various missions that they have to fight their way out of, while also facing the condescension and mockery of their snobbish colleagues at Regents Park, which is where MI5 operates.

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Details about Season 5

Season 5 will be adapted from the fifth book in the series called London Rules. The title refers to the advice given by Jonathan Pryce’s retired MI5 legend, David Cartwright to his grandson, River Cartwright (played by Jack Lowden), the wannabe James Bond at the center of the show - “Moscow rules means watch your back, London rules means cover your a**e”. In the world of Slow Horses, you’re more likely to be neutralized by office politics than by an enemy agent’s bullet.

A fifth season renewal is almost unheard of in the current streaming landscape, where (barring a handful of mega successes) shows tend to get canceled after a couple of seasons on average. It doesn’t hurt that Slow Horses follows the British convention of six episodes a season, which works out much cheaper than the usual 10-13 episodes for American or global productions.

Other streamers would do well to follow the British model - not only does it keep costs in check, it also helps with quality control. Lesser episodes means more focus on the story and fewer filler storylines that spin wheels and go nowhere. At the very least, a six episode show doesn’t overstay its welcome; even a mediocre show ends before it can be rejected and abandoned by the audience.

Of course, it also helps that Apple has a practically unlimited budget, and a significantly smaller number of shows to spend it on, compared to a competitor like Netflix, which will likely have released a new show or season by the time you finish reading this article.

On a winning streak

The espionage show has been a consistent hit for Apple TV+, at least from the standpoint of critical and fan reception. Apple is as opaque as every other streamer when it comes to subscriber numbers and watch time data, but it’s obvious the platform is pleased with the performance of Slow Horses. It was originally picked up for a two season run, both of which were produced back to back, followed by another two season order. Apple has loosened the purse strings for Season 3, which is mounted on a much larger production budget. The latest season opens with an extended prologue shot in Istanbul with a boat, car, and foot chase; and the climactic showdown is just as production-heavy, with thrilling action sequences set in multiple locations.

Slow Horses has hit on a winning formula that blends two disparate genres. At the base is pure Le Carre - spymasters pulling strings, agents racing to piece things together, shadowy conspiracies, and motivations behind motivations. But before things can get too self-serious or dreary, there’s an overlay of workplace comedy; the slow horses are not quite bumbling but definitely inept, and only accidentally on the right side of things. Sample this pep talk from Gary Oldman’s slob of a spymaster, Jackson Lamb, late in Season 1 - “You’re (expletive) useless, the lot of ya. Working with you has been the lowest point in a disappointing career”.

The pedigree is clear, showrunner Will Smith (not the Fresh Prince) was a writer on political comedy The Thick Of It, think Veep but British. The writing does a good job of humanizing the characters and making them flawed, almost to the point of incompetence - which aids with both the relatability as well as the comedic aspects. The show is as much a thriller as it is a workplace comedy. The breakneck pace of the twists and turns coupled with the outright hilarious insults that Lamb reserves for his team make for a deliciously entertaining cocktail.

Slow Horses is good solid television, a show perfectly tailor-made for a binge.

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