Intelligence Season 1 review: A well-acted comedy finding its feet
Ivan Radford | On 28, Feb 2020
Intelligence is a TV show that wears its title with a loud irony. Set within Cheltenham’s GCHQ – think MI5’s geeky cousin – it’s a workplace comedy that imagines the nation’s defence against cybercrime is handled by incompetent fools.
There’s Joseph (Nick Mohammed), a junior analyst who just wants people to like him. There’s Mary (Jane Stanness), a cat lady you wouldn’t trust with your least favourite pet. There’s Christine (Sylvestra Le Touzel), the head of the team who spends most of her time being frustrated at those around her – including her clueless assistant, Evelyn (Eliot Salt).
But the most incompetent of the lot? That would be Jerry (David Schwimmer), an NSA agent sent over to be the team’s newest member. It’s a game performance from Schwimmer, who commits brilliantly to the part, from brash arrogance to physical pratfalls. But it’s also a big performance amid an ensemble of smaller ones, and it takes Intelligence the best part of its first season to work out how to balance them all.
Jerry, we learn quickly, is American to the core, bringing with him an inbuilt racial prejudice and a presumption that every woman is attracted to him. He’s clever enough to take any opportunity to make himself not look like an idiot, yet stupid enough to fail repeatedly, and endearingly clumsy while also being a cruel bully to Joseph. It’s a tricky mix of traits to reconcile in a coherent character, and it’s only once the show finds its groove – working out exactly what role it needs Schwimmer to play – that Jerry starts to feel believable. Is he the smartest person in the room or the dumbest? The nastiest or the most sympathetic? (Whether his casual racism and sexism can be cancelled out by other quirks is a dilemma the show seems to forget about, especially as a backstory designed to make him more vulnerable comes to light.)
It’s a shame to see Schwimmer not quite used to his full potential in the opening episodes. It’s also a shame to see him surrounded by people who don’t get much breathing space either – hacker-turned-good-egg Tova (Gana Bayarsaikhan) is a disappointingly two-dimensional figure, while Mary only becomes more than a one-joke sidekick in the season’s final episode.
Nick Mohammed, though, is excellent as Joseph, a guy who falls for an email virus within two episodes but still remains a plausible, vaguely competent and well-meaning figure. He plays the put-upon number-two to Schwimmer’s alpha fool with aplomb, while still stealing scenes himself with a deadpan delivery (even when chewing cigarettes) and a rapid tongue for retorts and rapidly withdrawn misspeaks.
Mohammed and Schwimmer met years ago on a pilot (co-written with Julia Davis) called Morning Is Broken that never got off the ground. Intelligence, then, is a long-awaited collaboration between the two friends, and they are at their best when doing their double-act away from the group. That interesting dynamic produces several laugh-out-loud moments across the season’s six episodes, but mainly leaves you hoping for more laughs to come. Indeed, a second season would bode well for Schwimmer’s character being given a chance to grow. Intelligence, fortunately, is smart enough to have Season 2 in the works already.
Intelligence Season 1 is available on Sky Max. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW, for £9.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial. For the latest Sky TV packages and prices, click the button below.