Citadel is a show that has no business being as exhilarating as it is. The hyper-expensive, globe-trotting Prime Video spy thriller has been languishing in development for years. There have been reports that early cuts of the first season were so bad, a new showrunner — David Weil — was brought in and the talent was forced to basically reshoot everything. Citadel isn’t based on existing IP, nor can it boast any particularly innovative storytelling tricks. It’s stupid, but it’s also sleek, sexy, and incredibly fun to watch.
Citadel is a show that had me rolling my eyes and giggling at its clunky world-building, but it also kept my attention rapt. Series stars Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas have easy, scintillating chemistry that kept me smiling. Stanley Tucci and Lesley Manville devour scenery and feast on their otherwise flat lines of dialogue with ravenous intensity. The action sequences alternate between James Bond fantasy and squalid grapples for survival. And the show’s tightly-plotted episodes — which so far have all clocked in at under 40 minutes — waste no time getting to the meat of Citadel’s story.
Citadel might not be breaking new ground in the spy genre, but it’s firing on all cylinders. This is a show that’s here to give you a good time, not a great, artistic experience. Sometimes you just have to appreciate a show that’s as shamelessly fun as Citadel is.
Citadel opens with super spies Mason Kane (Richard Madden) and Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) rendezvousing on a luxurious train speeding through Europe. After flirtatiously sparring with banter, they get down to the mission. Unfortunately, it seems that the whole op is a trap. Operatives from an evil organization named Manticore has set the two Citadel agents up to either turn their coats or die. As the mission falls apart, the train goes off the rails. We next find Mason waking up in a hospital with full on amnesia, Jason Bourne-style.
The show then jumps eight years in the future. Mason has mostly settled into a quiet life as a husband and father named Kyle Conroy, but he still wants answers about his past. When a therapist suggests trying to float another DNA test out into the universe — after all, the tech has improved in the ensuing years — Kyle inadvertently tips the sole survivor of Citadel off to his existence. Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci) ambushes Kyle, kidnaps his family, takes them to a safe house, and explains that Manticore has essentially taken over the world, ruined everything, and will stop at nothing to hunt Kyle.
From there, Citadel flies through plot twists, flashbacks, and action sequences as if there’s a countdown clock the show has to outrace. And, honestly, I found this bullet train-fast pace to be incredibly intoxicating. While so many other streaming tentpoles meander around to their heart’s content, serving up bloated seasons of super-long episodes, Citadel refuses to waste its audience’s time. On the one hand, that means there’s precious little character development alongside oodles of shallow world-building. On the other, Citadel is propelled by adrenaline and charm. The show’s charismatic cast of actors will sell you on every absurd spy gadget, ludicrous reveal, and status-shifting twist.
Speaking of the cast, while Richard Madden’s American accent is ever-so-slightly stilted, he acquits himself well in the dual roles of Mason Kane and Kyle Conroy. Mason is the self-assured, cocky super agent who refuses to see his own emotional blind spot for Nadia, while Kyle is an adorably bumbling family man only hurling himself into danger for his wife and daughter. Priyanka Chopra Jonas not only gets to harness her warm sensuality as Nadia Sinh, but shows a more tenacious side of herself than we’re perhaps used to seeing. Not enough great things can be said about Stanley Tucci and Lesley Manville, who represent the faces of Citadel and Manticore, respectively. The fun these master thespians are having with the project crackles off the screen.
Citadel isn’t going to change the way you look at the spy thriller, but it is going to give you all of the genre’s most-loved tropes. If you’re looking for something knottier, move along. If you just looking for a brain-numbing thrill ride, strap in and hang on. Citadel bursts out the gate, full of swagger and sex appeal.
The first two episodes of Citadel premiere on April 28, with subsequent episodes debuting weekly through May 26.