Smart thrillers, not too gory?
May 27, 2016 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Here's another "choose my entertainment for me" question: If I like "Alias" and "The Night Manager"—smart, not-too-gory, lots of twists and turns—what else will I like?

I like a good spy thriller, but nothing too gruesome and nothing where kids are harmed. We worked our way through three seasons of "Alias" before I felt like the writers were treading water. We were recently riveted by "The Night Manager." What else might we like? I've heard the original "Tinker, Tailor, etc" is a little too slow.

I've seen this thread, though I should say I don't tend to love older movies like "Marathon Man" because of the dearth of women.
posted by pipti to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
It's not spies per se, but Leverage (streaming on Hulu) has a lot of the same tropes -- it's con men persons, running smart double-crosses, and both the con and the thief are women.
posted by Etrigan at 10:24 AM on May 27, 2016

Have you watched Spooks / MI-5?
posted by jacquilynne at 10:30 AM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Americans. There are some very uncomfortable moments and violence, but almost 85% - 90% is about the relationships and how they are impacted by lies and betrayal.

Orphan Black is also great fun, sometimes a bit over the top, but in such an entertaining way. And Tatiana Maslany is so amazing.
posted by brookeb at 10:32 AM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

It got mentioned in the thread you linked to, but I wanted to mention it again: the BBC version of State of Play was amazing. A solid cast, a complicated plot, not too violent (that I recall).

Seconding The Americans.
posted by Janta at 10:39 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not technically "spy thrillers" but some other shows I liked that matched for "British" and "Who's working for who??"
First season of Leverage

You might also like:
Life On Mars
posted by bleep at 10:40 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Rubicon seems to have been mostly forgotten, but it's a show along those lines that I really enjoyed. The Hour, especially the first season, is also fantastic, although it's not strictly a spy series.

The Americans is incredible and I third the recommendation, but, mild spoiler...if violence against children is something you absolutely don't want to deal with, I'd be careful about the second season.
posted by eponym at 10:55 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

not sure what you're calling the original tinker tailor, but both the bbc mini series and the 2011 film were excellent, imho (but neither feature many women).
posted by andrewcooke at 10:56 AM on May 27, 2016

The Honourable Woman (AV Club review) I thought it was beautifully made and acted, and it was an excellent puzzle. I don't recall any violence against children, but it's been a year or so that I watched it.

That A.V. Club review mentions Top of the Lake, which I also loved. It's a bit grittier, although I don't remember gory violence.

(I second The Americans and Rubicon)
posted by gladly at 11:09 AM on May 27, 2016

Prime Suspect.

Mute Witness may be too horrory for you but it sure has some good suspense.
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:28 AM on May 27, 2016

Top Of The Lake, while an excellent show overall, would not be good if you want something where kids aren't harmed.
posted by bleep at 11:31 AM on May 27, 2016

The Blacklist
posted by Sassyfras at 11:31 AM on May 27, 2016

People are mostly suggesting TV series, but since you mentioned Marathon Man as a dislike, I'll mention a couple movies that might work for you:

Michael Clayton
The Debt
posted by bluecore at 11:53 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I re-watched one of my favorite thrillers recently with so many fun twists and turns:
Malice (1993)

It has everyone: Nicole Kidman, Bill Pullman, Alec Baldwin, a very young Gweneth Paltrow, Bebe Neuworth, George C. Scott, Peter Gallagher, effing ANNE BANCROFT!

Anyway my sisters and I watch it at least 2-3 times per year. :D
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:11 PM on May 27, 2016

If you don’t mind foreign tv with subtitles, Deutschland 83 is a good spy story ticking all your boxes there - smart and fast paced and as far as I remember not gory/gruesome. Quite fun actually.
posted by bitteschoen at 12:43 PM on May 27, 2016

The Assets is very good - if you can get past Jodie Whitaker's slightly dodgy US accent.

Agree that you should give Deutschland 83 a go.
posted by veedubya at 1:26 PM on May 27, 2016

Seconding Prime Suspect with the wonderful Helen Mirren, and also River with Stellan Skarsgard and Nicola Walker, both of whom were amazing.
posted by merejane at 2:32 PM on May 27, 2016

"Source Code" is a good, tense movie with lots of twists and turns. It has violence - a train blows up several times - but I don't remember anything gory.

It isn't about spies, but rather about the military in a science fiction setting.
posted by tacodave at 3:08 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, forgot to mention that Spooks was mentioned earlier. It's good, but you should be aware that in one of the early episodes something very nasty happens to a major female character. I won't go into details, but I was surprised that it could be shown on telly.
posted by veedubya at 3:29 PM on May 27, 2016

Have you watched Homeland, especially Season 1? I think that would appeal to you.
posted by merejane at 3:39 PM on May 27, 2016

You should absolutely watch Person of Interest! And the good news is the first four seasons are available on Netflix streaming (at least in the US.)

I loved it from the pilot, but I know others found the first part of season 1 to be a little slow, but you should absolutely stick with it. By the later episodes of season 1, it really picks up, and it has amazingly just gotten better and better.

It's got some really great actors in the cast like my favorite Michael Emerson, and also Taraji P Henson and Amy Acker, and there is also a great mix of recurring characters. It starts out seeming very case of the week, and there is always that element to it, but as the show goes on, you'll get more and more serialized story lines. It's definitely got twists and turns, mystery, some espionage, lots of intrigue, and a really interesting take on the surveillance state. Seriously, it's such a good show. It's a very clever premise, and it's executed so well.

J. J. Abrams is involved in it, but unlike with Lost (and maybe Alias?) it actually has a coherent mythology that builds throughout the series. Even seemingly insignificant plot points will get picked up in later episodes. Oh, and people do get shot/beaten up with a fair amount of regularity, but it is not at all gory, and although a couple of kids (and one baby) have shown up in some episodes, they are never actually harmed, so no worries there.

I don't tend to love older movies like "Marathon Man" because of the dearth of women.

In the early episodes the cast is rather male dominated, but starting in season 2, more women are added to the cast so the main cast ends up being 50/50 men and women.
posted by litera scripta manet at 3:43 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Worricker Trilogy with Bill Nighy.

I like Person of Interest, too, but don't look away for a minute or you will be lost! Quite a bit of Jack Reacher-type violence, too. In fact, that guy would have been a better Reacher than Tom Cruise.

Don't watch the US version of Broadchurch season 1. It is a bad clone of the much better British version--like a scene-for-scene clone with David Tennant in both.

The Blue Rose (only on Acorn TV, I think) is engrossing. A group of coworkers try to find out what happened to Rose when she turns up dead. They branch out into helping other wronged people.

I like Tinker, Tailor; it is full of twists & turns. But slower than Alias, for sure!
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 10:28 PM on May 27, 2016

one of my favorite thrillers is david mamet's little known spartan. val kilmer plays an undercover special forces guy who gets pulled into a large, secret investigation. it's very guy heavy - there's only a couple woman characters, with not much screen time. what i love about it is that there is no setup or explication - you're thrown into a weird situation and you have to figure out what's happening at the same time as the characters. lots of interesting mamet twists, so avoid spoilers if you care to. kilmer is magnetic, and the rest of the casting is pitch perfect.
posted by bruceo at 10:32 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen it in years, so take this with a grain of salt, but I remember really liking The Sting. It's an older one, and kind of dude heavy, but it looks like it won a lot of awards at least. It's a little more long con than spy thriller, but still twists!
posted by helloimjennsco at 5:56 AM on May 31, 2016

Maybe Covert Affairs?
posted by freezer cake at 10:50 AM on May 31, 2016

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