Netflix Wastes Noah Centineo’s Himbo Charm

Ben Affleck hit the nail on the head when he compared Netflix’s process of creating original content to “an assembly line,” while promoting his and Matt Damon’s new production company Artists Equity. The Oscar winner was, of course, referring to the fact that Netflix’s output is subject to rigorous testing based on user behavior and even a secret “preview club.” While most, if not all, streamers utilize these analytics, Netflix’s uber data-driven approach has notably resulted in an overwhelming mass of movies and television shows that usually suck. It’s all the more disappointing when these projects involve exciting, underrated talent. (Leighton Meester, I will avenge you!)

The latest television show to come down Netflix’s lackluster conveyor belt is the new spy-action series The Recruit, out today. Created by Alexi Hawley, the show stars To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before actor Noah Centineo as newly hired CIA lawyer Owen Hendricks, whose seemingly humdrum job takes him on an unexpectedly wild and dangerous mission.

During his first week on the job, Owen is tasked with looking through a stack of graymail. He discovers a letter threatening to expose agency secrets from a Russian former asset named Maxine Meladze (Laura Haddock), who’s on trial for murder. After Owen tracks Maxine down, the two begin a rather dicey, symbiotic relationship. Max offers Owen her dirt on the CIA through a labyrinthine series of clues, hoping he can get her out of prison. And Owen, low on the CIA totem pole, wants the honor and glory of aborting a national security threat—and also some good tea on his frightening overlords.

Over time, Owen’s behavior—and accumulation of gashes from people constantly trying to murder him—becomes increasingly suspicious to his colleagues, boss, and roommates. He creates some enemies within the agency along the way, complicating his quest for secrets. His increasingly intimate relationship with Max becomes equally thorny.

This brand of male-led espionage thriller has been made a million times before, including the 2003 Al Pacino and Colin Farrell joint called The Recruit. And yet, this series of the same name has nothing new to add to the genre or anything insightful to say about the myriad cliches it presents. It doesn’t even suffice as a good old-fashioned love letter to the Jason Bournes and Agent Cody Bankses of yore.

There’s a laundry list of issues hindering The Recruit from being a riveting action series or, at the very least, mindlessly enjoyable. Chief among these is an uncertainty in tone. Despite Netflix categorizing it as a drama, the series is a fish-out-of-water comedy at heart, as alluded to by the poster image of Centineo looking completely dumbfounded while explosions go off behind him. Other elements lead you to assume the series wants to be a satire, including the episode titles that are comically long abbreviations.

The series leans into its innate silliness occasionally. However, for the majority of the show, there’s an unnecessary layer of seriousness applied to Owen’s character. Yes, he is a lawyer, but he often appears like a bumbling fool around his much more austere, seasoned co-workers. It doesn’t help that literally every facet of the CIA is explained to him (and viewers) by his boss and colleagues in the most basic terms, making you wonder why he chose to work for the organization in the first place.

When the show does reach for a laugh—not an actual one, but the sort of silent laugh you might experience watching Succession—the writing isn’t sharp or quippy enough for any of it to land. This is most evident (and cringey) when we see Owen engage with his colleagues, Violet (Aarti Mann) and Lester (Colton Dunn); they both go out of their way to make his job miserable, seemingly because he’s young and good-looking and their general counsel (Vondie Curtis Hall) trusts him with hefty tasks. (It is genuinely annoying that their boss, who is Black, has so much blind faith in this inexperienced white, male, recent law grad, but this isn’t really examined.)

Owen’s co-workers are positioned as the show’s comedic relief, giving you hints of The Office whenever they poke fun at Owen’s naivety. (The show even uses a shaky handheld camera.) But their constant prodding and pranking falls flat. Overall, you get the impression that, if The Recruit had a better grip on what genre it wanted to be and what shows it wanted to emulate, both the writing and performances would be slightly stronger.

Speaking of performances, The Recruit is a total waste of Centineo’s capabilities as an actor, which is mostly to make you wish he was your boyfriend. The Black Adam star is not the most skilled or dynamic actor working in Hollywood right now—which maybe speaks to why he primarily thrives on social media and in the streaming space as opposed to being cast in bigger projects.

But he’s definitely cultivated enough of a reputation on the internet to imbue his characters with enough magnetism, desirability, goofiness and delightful himbo-ness to keep us watching. However, The Recruit, with all of its blandness and misguided choices, doesn’t give Centineo many opportunities to shine, as a sex symbol or simply a funny dude. Instead, we spend a frustrating amount of time watching him recite thinly written monologues that only underscore his weaknesses as an actor or do a low, gravely Bruce Willis impression.

It’s clear that Centineo—more often than not, a supporting actor—was looking for a challenge when he took on this project, which he also executive-produces. However, there’s no character to be studied or compelled by in Owen, whose personal depth is limited to having a deceased father, who’s mentioned in a perfunctory manner, and not being a total jerk to women. When asked by an operative (Angel Parker) why he doesn’t just go with the flow at work and blend in with colleagues, he responds that he “despises the cool kids” due to his secondary school trauma. The way this is uttered is extremely funny, but, of course, the show doesn’t realize it.

In sum, watching The Recruit is like watching a blank avatar run around in a video game for eight hours. Or a poorly written version of Barry. The show is too focused on the complicated (but boring) puzzle it’s created for its protagonist that fails to create fascinating inner lives or dynamics between the people involved. Overall, I left my eight-hour sitdown with this series wondering, “What is this extremely tedious, glaringly algorithmic project for?” Oh yeah, streams.

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