Citadel Review: A Very Expensive Mistake
All the money in the world can't make Amazon's pricey new spy thriller series Citadel seem fresh or exciting.
This Citadel review contains no spoilers.
If you’ve never seen a good spy series before, Prime Video has a new offering that might captivate you. It’s called Citadel, and the streamer has spent an unhinged amount of cash on it, with the bill steadily creeping towards $300 million at the time of writing. Make no mistake, it’s a show that got Amazon so hyped, they decided to make it thrice. There’s three seasons of this U.S. one planned, plus three seasons of two international foreign-language versions. It’s Citadels all the way down, baby!
What’s this staggering megaproject even about, you ask? Well, in this English-language version, there was once a unique spy agency called Citadel, reminiscent of the one in the animated FXX spy series, Archer, but with more healthy global intentions. Its two best agents were a suave man with a strong jawline who favors a tailored suit, and a painfully beautiful woman who seems smarter and more capable than him, much like Archer. Mason Kane (Richard Madden) leans on his mocking charm, sharp skills, and charisma to get the job done, while Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) is more focused on the mission and is exasperated by Mason’s schtick, much like Archer. Rest assured, even if you’ve never seen a single minute of Archer but definitely have seen any slick show where the two lead characters have absolutely banged and will absolutely bang again in the future, you’re already primed for Citadel.
The twist here is that they’re both about to get amnesia while their agency bites the dust, and they must try and remember who they are and what happened to Citadel in order to fight a powerful crime syndicate that rose from its ashes while they were pottering about for years thinking they were just normies with sore heads and a lot of weird scars. Meanwhile, their former handler Bernard (Stanley Tucci) is more than ready to get the Citadel ball rolling again and bring the old team back together, resuming his place as Mason and Nadia’s “man in the chair”.
The decision to invest so heavily in the concept of this show has long baffled those who have charted its development. Sure, it comes from ex-Marvel stock, in this case the Russo brothers’ production company, AGBO. And sure, Prime Video is probably itching to have a big, original spy property on the docket, given that its attempts to make a real James Bond show have thus far been thwarted, but what was it about Citadel that got it the blank check treatment? After watching it, I’m not really sure, and I don’t think Amazon is either. If they ever knew what the hell they were doing here, they’ve somehow forgotten along the way, drowned in a sea of expensive reshoots and heavy edits.
Citadel was once eight hour-long episodes, but now it’s only six 40-ish minute-long episodes, which should give you an idea of how much the show’s characters and plot have been sliced and diced. After replacing its showrunner some way into production, president and co-founder of AGBO Mike Larocca said that audience feedback had made it clear that “some changes needed to be made,” with “more character work” needed to draw people into the show. I cannot imagine what the first few episodes were like before, but what we now have is some of the most rote character dialogue and exposition imaginable, spread thickly over a handful of expensive fight scenes and action sequences. Almost every conversation between the characters includes a set of ticked personality boxes that feel utterly devoid of creativity and intrigue, and you will bang your head on every signposted plot twist.
There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done better before elsewhere. The adrenaline and twists of J.J. Abrams’ aging spy series Alias are fresh and edgy compared to Citadel’s. 24’s real-time execution and urgent ticking clock still feel like the work of a TV genius while we trudge through this underwhelming new show with a budget around the GDP of a small country. And despite Archer’s relatively cheap animation, it seems more inventive in its 13th(!) season than Citadel ever manages in its bombastic first.
Despite the show’s many, many problems, Citadel does have one saving grace: the chemistry between Madden and Chopra Jonas is electric. These two actors were clearly very competently tested together before they were cast, and it shows onscreen. There’s a lot that can be forgiven when you’re watching two very beautiful people trade barbs and embark on a will-they-won’t-they high stakes adventure, but Citadel is truly out to test your limits with its otherwise lackluster ideas.
There’s very little to recommend here, but if this is the first time you’ve decided to take the plunge and commit to a glossy spy thriller, Citadel might keep you entertained for a while. It has two sexy leads and some twists up its sleeve, but with so many other great weekly streaming choices yelling for your attention, I fear it doesn’t have much chance of keeping it.
The first two episodes of Citadel are available to stream on Prime Video now. New episodes premiere on Fridays.