The first rule of “The Recruit” is everybody talks to the recruit and about the recruit, and given this is a series about a fledgling lawyer with the CIA, which is supposed to be the most super-secret organization on the planet, there’s something ludicrous and darkly comical and wildly over-the-top about that premise — and yet showrunner Alexi Hawley and rising star Noah Centineo deliver the goods in the latest binge-worthy Netflix series.
Flashy, funny and action-packed, “The Recruit” is a slick confection that pulls off the difficult feat of juggling a multi-plot, twist-filled, globetrotting storyline that careens all over the place and yet is relatively easy and quite fun to follow.
Centineo (“Black Adam,” the Netflix rom-com “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and its sequels) has a kind of squishy handsomeness and sounds a little like a young Mark Ruffalo in his line deliveries as Owen Hendricks, who is thrown into the deep and murky end of the espionage in his very first week as a lawyer with the CIA. While slogging through paperwork that was intended as a sort of hazing ritual by his cynical, work-avoiding colleagues Violet (Aarti Mann) and Lester (Colton Dunn), Owen discovers a legitimate blackmail threat from former CIA asset Max Meladze (Laura Haddock), a Russian double agent who is in prison in Arizona for a murder unrelated to the spy game.
This sets off a chain of events in which Owen’s no-nonsense boss Walter (the invaluable Vondie Curtis-Hall) is constantly calling Owen into his office and telling him to clean up one mess or another, and Owen is jetting from one locale to another as a kind of modern-day Columbo who is almost always in over his head and often getting the living bleep kicked out of him because he either knows too much or doesn’t know enough.
“The Recruit” finds room to sprinkle in subplots involving a number of intriguing characters, including Owen’s two supportive roommates, Hannah (Fivel Stewart), who is Owen’s ex-girlfriend, and his best friend Terence (Daniel Quincy Annoh); the hardcore CIA operative Dawn (Angel Parker), who would just as soon pull out Owen’s fingernail (for real) than trust him, and Kaylah Zander’s Amelia, another CIA colleague who has a TV newsroom mockup in her spare bedroom and rehearses every night for her planned future career as a paid analyst on one of the cable news channels. And we haven’t even talked about Owen’s dealings with Russian mobsters, Washington power brokers, the mysterious Icelandic college student who cozies up to him in a bar in Geneva ... this guy is having the craziest first few weeks of just about anyone in the history of espionage.
Noah Centineo is a likable and charismatic lead, part everyman and part reluctant hero. The strikingly beautiful Laura Haddock is excellent at playing a kick-ass operative who will stop at nothing to ensure her survival, and yet has a human side as well. “The Recruit” seems destined for a multiple-season run, and deservedly so.