The new spy series “Citadel” is Amazon’s attempt at a “Squid Game,” “Money Heist,” or “Love Is Blind“: a show with a global appeal that matches the reach of its platform and a potential franchise that might encourage international spinoffs.
If “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” was Amazon’s attempt to provide its online streaming service Prime Video with a homegrown version of “Game of Thrones,” the new spy series “Citadel” The idea didn’t come from a writer, director, or producer, but from Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, who sent a business plan to AGBO, the production company run by Anthony and Joe Russo, in search of a novel idea.
The result of putting the vehicle before the horse, as with the unimpressive “Rings of Power,” is unavoidably evident. An allegedly tumultuous production that involved numerous retakes, a change in showrunners, and a condensed episode schedule are also apparent. There are hints of that upheaval in the credits, where no less than five screenwriters are listed as authors of the pilot’s teleplay.
The origins of “Citadel” are clear enough in the execution, even if you’re not the sort to closely examine an IMDb page: it’s a choppy, generic box office hit-by-numbers with a nine-figure budget that you’d never guess from the cheesy CGI.
Not that Amazon cares about quality; the company has already ordered a second season of “Citadel,” as well as satellite shows filmed in Italy and India.
In principle, this English-language flagship will serve as the hub of a vast network of interconnected universes. A huge construction needs a rock-solid basis, but “Citadel”‘s offers one that is at best weak.
The “Citadel” synopsis feels redundant. While technically unique, the story could have been derived from a word cloud on the Wikipedia page for “spy thriller.” The titular organization is a global network concerned with Cold War-era hazards such as unsecured nuclear weapons.
Its two top agents, Mason (Richard Madden) & Nadia (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), have a sexual tension that is shown through brainless banter rather than chemistry. She says, “I’ll be gentle.” “I have a feeling you don’t know how to be,” he says.
As they face off against a posh, ice-cold Brit, they’re helped by a wise-cracking techie who mostly stays behind the scenes.
These cookie-cutter parts are played by Stanley Tucci and Lesley Manville, the only two actors who appear to be aware of the hilarity around them and ham it up accordingly. I wish the show had a sense of humor.
The idea suggests a more substantial series. Tucci claims that intelligence groups affiliated with nation-states “have started wars, murdered global leaders, and slaughtered innocents,” therefore Citadel was founded to serve only the interests of humanity. There’s a vein of sociopolitical critique there for “Citadel” to explore.
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However, the setup appears to be a cynical play for transnational appeal rather than a critical examination of real-life surveillance work and the media that glorifies it.
Citadel’s enemy, Manticore, is allegedly funded by a coalition of oligarchs, yet it serves as more of a required antagonist than a metaphor for excessive wealth’s destructive impact. What else would you expect from a Jeff Bezos, Inc. product?
At the very least, unambitious cliché can be entertaining. “Citadel” falls short of the basic minimum yet again. The opening sequence, a train brawl, is reminiscent of Madden’s blockbuster series “Bodyguard,” highlighting how this version lacks tension and also sticks the actor with a fake American accent.
The episodes, at less than 40 minutes each, do not prolong our anguish, but essential chunks of background appear to have been left on the editing room floor.
Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results; after “The Rings of Power,” Amazon is once again attempting to buy a worldwide sensation without the basic intelligence to back it up. The Everything Store has gone insane, and “Citadel” will not be able to save it.