AMC's ambitious miniseries "The Night Manager" follows in the footsteps of HBO's "True Detective," offering a crime drama tensely told like a long, luscious film. Where the latter's first season was helmed solely by Cary Fukunaga and fronted by stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, "The Night Manager" boasts acclaimed Danish director Susanne Bier ("After The Wedding," "A Better World"), with British heavy hitters Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston as its stars.
Based on the first episode we witnessed at the Tribeca Film Festival, these two series also have greatness in common.
Adapted from the John le Carre spy novel of the same name, "The Night Manager" stars Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine, whose nights are dedicated to caring for all the strange requests of his wealthy clientele. Pine's story begins in Cairo in 2011, where political upheaval has the tourists fleeing and literally clutching their pearls. But Pine is calm, whether he's wading through raucous protesters, dodging bullets or facing down the threats of a crime boss. The only thing that cracks his cool demeanor is the glamorous and doomed Sophie (Aure Atika), who risks her life by passing Pine delicate information about a brewing arms deal.
When he leaks this potentially catastrophic deal to the British embassy, a chain of events begins that will hurl "The Night Manager" and its hero from one jet-setting location to the next, all in pursuit of "the worst man in the world," Richard "Dickie" Roper (Laurie with smug grandeur). On the surface, Roper appears like a top-notch citizen and philanthropist, but his wealth and power is derived from selling horrific weaponry. Affronted by Roper's hypocrisy and malevolence, Pine becomes an unexpected agent for MI6, dedicated to bringing down Roper.
There's a luxury in Bier's approach to the thriller. David Carr's six-episode script lets the story breathe, allowing audiences to indulge in the seductive characters and locations. In the pilot, we leap from Cairo, Egypt, to London, England, to Zermatt, Switzerland. But the focus is keen, pinpointed by Hiddleston's piercing blue eyes. All roads lead to Roper, but it's the getting there that we enjoy in Episode 1.
Hiddleston slides into a perfectly fitted suit and an easy smile, proving a charismatic and capable manager who relishes the local culture, eagerly soaking up its language and etiquette. Then enters Sophie, and with her a sexual tension so thick you'd need to cut it with a chainsaw. Despite her dangerous beau, she flirts with Pine, and despite his propriety, he caves to her charms. Theirs is a romance of silk and smoke, cut cruelly short. She haunts him, drives him, and throws the plot into high gear.
Laurie swans into the story with a rich man's nonchalance and a small army of hangers-on, including a devastatingly high-fashion girlfriend (Elizabeth Debicki) and a cheeky right-hand minion ("Hanna's" menacing Tom Hollander). Their elegance and elitism is enviable and repulsive. And instantly we hunger for Pine to mash the lot of them as Roper crushes the pistachio shells he plops into quickly drained champagne bottles. But, Episode 2 begins to show a different side to some of this posh party. (Tribeca, in a maddening turn, teased the first 15 minutes of Episode 2, cutting us off at an intense cliffhanger involving high stakes and much screaming.) I'll avoid spoilers, but will say this: Fans of Hiddleston, Laurie and the up-and-coming Debecki have plenty of reason to tune in. "The Night Manager" gives them each much dramatic meat to chew on.
But it's not all espionage, intrigue, smolder and sex. There's also scathing British wit in the form of Olivia Colman. The rightly beloved character actress who's mastered comedy ("Peep Show," "That Mitchell and Webb Look") and drama ("Tyrannosaur," "Broadchurch") does a bit of both here as Pine's handler Angela Burr. Leader of a wing of MI6 that is criminally underfunded -- relegated to a "shoe box of an office" where the workers are swaddled in thick sweaters because of the faulty heating -- she is fiercely determined to topple Roper, whose crimes are willfully ignored by his friends in the House of Lords. She and Pine bond fast over the unique sense of patriotism they share. And even as she's slamming higher ups with biting remarks and earnestly warning Pine of incoming horror, you get a sense of this bond's possibilities.
Thick with tension, sex appeal and atmosphere, "The Night Manager's" premiere episode is reminiscent of the start of such satisfying crime series as "True Detective," "The Fall" and "Top of the Lake." Its story is intriguing, its characters compelling, and its production value awe-striking. The only thing I didn't like is that I have to wait each Tuesday for more.
"The Night Manager" premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.