Spycraft is informative and comprehensive enough to please fans of the subject, but its overly familiar format and unintentionally melodramatic style prevent it from being as memorable as it could be.
Everyone knows these days that Netflix is the place to be for solid if unremarkable documentary series’. Whatever you’re into, there’s surely one for you, from true-crime to narcotics history (though that’s also kind of true-crime) to a comprehensive-ish history of global spycraft — a lot of which is basically true-crime, now that I think about it. Look, if you like to see people doing things they probably shouldn’t be doing, get a Netflix subscription.
But anyway, Spycraft. Debuting globally today, the eight-part series covers a range of topics related to espionage, beginning with an exploration of audio and video surveillance and then cycling through other subjects such as poisons, special ops, codebreaking, and recruitment — that last one just in case you were looking for a career change, I guess. Each half-hour episode, using the usual assemblage of archival footage, talking heads, and brief use of corny dramatic re-enactment, gives an overview of each facet and traces a history of its early development and varied usefulness in the world of worldwide tattle-tale.
It’s about what you’d expect in its structure, and a decent amount of information is provided, even if in the relatively short episode runtimes it can feel like slightly too much, with each milestone being sped over with nary a look in the rear-view mirror. It’s the presentation that feels a bit distractingly off-key, with obvious attempts to invoke the tone and style of a spy thriller to frequently melodramatic effect. Brace yourself for somewhat amateurish little clips of supposed officials in offices, boffins in labs, and men in suits talking conspiratorially in front of a twilight cityscape. Sprinkle a dramatic narration on top and you have a package that can be as unintentionally funny as it can be enlightening.
All this aside, though, anyone interested in the topic will be well-served by Spycraft, which is dense with information, historical context, and obvious enthusiasm for the subject matter. It’s nothing new, on this platform or elsewhere, but it is a relatively comprehensive account — certainly enough to fill an otherwise quiet Wednesday evening.