‘In real life, you don’t touch the trigger until you plan on squeezing’: what actual spies think of TV thrillers
Too much sex and gunfights, far too little paperwork … espionage shows aren’t exactly a masterclass in realism. Ex-agents reveal what they get right and wrong
Spies are everywhere – especially on TV. Thanks to streaming services such as Netflix and Apple TV+, these are boom times for fans of espionage thrillers. But it’s not only fans who are tuning in: viewers also include actual undercover agents whose roles range from collecting intelligence to recruiting spies for a living. And sometimes what they see onscreen leaves them cringing.
Key figures in a new tranche of espionage shows range from losers and lawyers to real-life spooks. In Apple TV+’s Slow Horses, the secret agents are sad-sack screwups banished to MI5’s administrative purgatory. In the ITVX drama A Spy Among Friends, the intelligence officers are Cambridge-educated liars in crisp tailored suits. And in Prime Video’s Jack Ryan, the CIA officials include paunchy lifers and Jason Bourne clones.