This is #RationalLampoon, where Harsh Pareek roasts the most deserving titles from among new streaming releases. Today: Citadel — or as we like to call it, Mission: Implausible.
This column was originally published as part of our newsletter The Daily Show on May 1, 2023. Subscribe here. (We're awesome about not spamming your inbox!)
The title: Citadel. As in within the first episode, we have our protagonist jest about how uninspired the name is, so we know it will be a cool show.
How often do characters say the title out loud? While the contract obliges them to say it every minute, our overzealous friends here go for it every 15 seconds.
The creators: Some people. But you surely must have heard of Amazon (not the one that's burning) and the Russo brothers (no, not the bros who made Uncut Gems)? They are involved. So, yeah, everything is peachy. Yes.
Is it based on a book? No, a completely original endeavour, my friend. O-R-I-G-I-N-A-L and organic.
The writers: N.A.
The stars: Richard Madden, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Stanley Tucci, Lesley Manville, Roland Møller, Moira Kelly, Ashleigh Cummings, and a bucket load of redshirts.
The plot synopsis: “What if you lost your memory? What if a spy didn’t know they were a spy? Years ago, the top agents of Citadel, Mason Kane (Richard Madden) and Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), had their minds wiped. But, they’re called back to action as sinister forces emerge from the past. With the help of spymaster Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci), these former lovers must remember the past to save the future.”
What if you lost your memory? I wouldn't know of the fact in that case, would I, mate?
What if a spy didn’t know they were a spy? Wouldn't be of much use then, would they? Wait… what if I am a spy… and just don't know it? Woah, this is getting deep already.
What is Citadel, though? Ah, just your run-of-the-mill super mega secret spy organisation (independent and beyond reproach, of course), which has been shaping the world events for the last 100 years from the shadows with its god-like powers and would very much like to continue doing so for the rest of the time.
And they are the good guys? Don't sound too good to me. Now you sound just like Manticore.
Who is Manticore? Not who, but what. The vague “sinister forces” from the synopsis. A rival organisation run by a group of eight super mega wealthy families who use their vast power and resources to exploit the world for their personal gains. Real life, basically.
That actually sounds pretty vague. Life is pretty vague. Get over it.
These Citadel folks… morals aside, they are good, right? Like, in what they do? Well, while they sure love talking about how they are the Lord's gift to mankind (Nadia refers to CIA and MI6 as the “minor leagues”, no joke), if the first 20 Red Wedding-esque minutes are anything to go by, they seem like the most incompetent and clueless spy organisation out there.
Don't get me wrong, I like it when films or shows straight-up jump into the second act and hit the ground running, but when you claim yourself to be some Mythical Overlords without anything to show for it, and then proceed to get wiped off from the face of this celestial body within minutes… eh, not too sure.
So, are the Manticore guys good at their job? Exceptionally good, for the first 20 minutes (and they do come with body art reflecting their alliances, so there's that). Then it's a race to idiocy between the two.
What year does the show take place in? A real tough one, this. Parts of it feel like they belong to 1923, while some of the technology showcased seems to belong to 3123. A testament to our creators' success at making a timeless piece of art. Yes.
How good is the CGI? Even seen The Polar Express?
How good are the action sequences? A budget John Wick. That is to say, not John Wick, but at least not Bryan Mills jumping a fence either. By 2023 standards, pretty serviceable.
How good is Richard Madden? From here on in this article, he shall be addressed as Robb.
How good is Priyanka Chopra Jonas? Her character loves to address Robb as 'love' with that slight mocking exaggeration from the olden days, so make up your own mind. That said, I would call Robb 'love' any day, just saying.
From here on in this article, Robb shall be addressed as Love.
How good is Stanley Tucci? Once you get over the shock that he is part of this… project, he's kind of fun.
Does he cook spaghetti in this? If only.
How good is Lesley Manville? You know you're really good at your job, so sometimes you can just fake it because you're bored?
How clever is the show? How clever are five-year-olds?
How good are the dialogues? In one of the very opening exchanges, the phrase “nefarious buddies” is thrown around.
The good: A couple of banter scenes between Tucci and Love, elementary as they might be, can make you dry chuckle after your mind has begun to disintegrate as you stare into this void.
Come to think of it, Tucci & Love has got a ring to it. I'd watch that show.
The bad: The sheer, utter, absolute laziness of this piece of spyware. The show feels like an executive's exceptionally literal idea of a spy thriller; an executive who, as a child with a limited imagination, had once heard of the Bond franchise in passing.
Not only is the show not remotely bright enough to put together something original, or even be a half-decent homage to the genre, but it has the balls to be self-referential to cover its painful listlessness. Isn't this plot xeroxed from the Bourne franchise, just like the Bourne franchise? Ha ha ha ha.
Watching the show is like second guessing everything you're being told just because it's difficult to believe it can all be that daft, only to realise it is.
Wait, I've seen the Bourne films! Does that mean the show will at least take me around the world — from gorgeous to grimy locations — and expand my horizons in the process? Please sit down. While, according to a label on the screen, every scene takes pace in a different location across the planet, practically all of them are shot indoors in a room lit by a mobile phone light. A deception so comically flagrant, one wonders why they even bothered.
The ugly: When the entire colour-grading involves processing the footage through a knock-off Instagram filter.
The mind-boggling: Alright, hear me out. In this world of Citadel, there exists a technology which can erase someone's memories with the press of a button, upload the same to a server, which can subsequently be restored within milliseconds via a vial of fluid injected into the neck. Let that sink in for a moment.
(Aside — We are to believe that people who have been through thorough medical examinations/procedures following a major accident, and are subsequently trying to learn who they are, never discovered that they had an advanced remote device(s) inside their bodies for eight years? But that's the least of our concerns here, so I guess we'll let it slide.)
Now, not only does no one seem to give a flying doo-doo about this tech beyond it serving the plot, the bad guys are apparently after some good ol' nuclear codes in a briefcase like it's 1991. Which, again, how the duck does an eight-year-old briefcase contain the current nuclear codes for countries across the world? Does it sync via wi-fi whenever a country changes its codes? Is it powered by nuclear fission? What are these technologies from another universe sprinkled around with such casualness? Is Citadel an alien organisation?
Also, a McGuffin briefcase with all the secrets and tech and vials and everything you could ever ask for except a good script? And it's called Citadel X Case? Next, you'll tell me there's a mole in the organisation.
The required suspension of disbelief: Flat-earther, minus the humour.
The winners: Every other spy show out there.
The losers: Love's wife and daughter (who seems to be a little slow on the uptake that her father has amnesia) within the show. And everyone outside it.
Can I be a spy? With the jaw-dropping ease with which Love manages to infiltrate and extract the X Case from Manticore's “secret” base (while some random jazz inexplicably plays in the background), I'd say you are ready already. Sleepwalking requires more effort.
Can I watch it with my kids? At the risk of your kid growing up to be a dumb spy, sure.
The budget: $300 million.
Is this show a money laundering scheme? One hopes so.
I saw a fancy train in the trailer. And I love fancy trains. Should I watch this show? I'd say go for Bullet Train.
The vibe: If Tommy Wiseau had access to money and A-list actors.
Where to submit any further queries or grievances: To your therapist.
The final verdict: The name's Tiresome… Utterly Tiresome.