Agent [], here is your first mission
April 8, 2019 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I've been watching El Ministerio del Tiempo (the Ministry of Time) on Netflix and have been reminded that I really enjoy the loose genre of "average person is recruited into"/"the reader/watcher discovers top-secret government agency/top secret team" where the story is lighthearted or a comedic/alternative take on this story, the agency/team is responsible for something non-standard like stealing art, or there is time travel or magical/supernatural forces involved.

El ministerio del tiempo is about a Spanish time-traveling bureaucracy that works to foil villains who are trying to change history, broadly speaking. Other things I've liked:

- The Rook by Daniel O'Malley -- magical government bureaucracy
- Au service de la France (A Very Secret Service) on Netflix - no supernatural stuff here, but a lighthearted, comedic take on your standard spy service
- La mesa del rey Salomón by Luis Montero Manglano -- a fictional Spanish government bureaucracy of art hunters working to recover lost Spanish pieces of art and national treasures from around the world
- Connie Willis' Oxford time travel books, which have the right tone and quirky time travel bureaucracy
- Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London books, though I have found that the most recent books have sagged a bit
- The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Nicole Galland and Neal Stephenson -- another time-traveling, magical government bureaucracy

I'm looking for novels in English or French, or TV shows/movies in any language.

Basically as you can see any kind of off-kilter cool agent/spy/policeman is fine as long as it's not a very straight version of your "average person is recruited into CIA/NSA/MI6/KGB etc" thriller. Thanks!
posted by andrewesque to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
posted by jozxyqk at 8:06 AM on April 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think the TV series The Middleman is a good match for your criteria.
posted by RichardP at 8:06 AM on April 8, 2019 [7 favorites]

The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe is the comedy version of this. I think the remake wasn't very good.
posted by Botanizer at 8:07 AM on April 8, 2019

Possibly the Jasper Fforde novels where the protagonist ends up working for Jurisfiction, an internal law enforcement agency that makes sure characters don't deviate from their storylines. They might actually be TOO goofy, though.
posted by daisystomper at 8:11 AM on April 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Just came in to add that I LOVE Jasper Fforde and totally would have mentioned his books had I thought of that, so that’s totally in scope.
posted by andrewesque at 8:17 AM on April 8, 2019

Oh, and how could we forget the classic If Looks Could Kill
posted by jozxyqk at 8:17 AM on April 8, 2019

Ghosted was made for you!
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 8:17 AM on April 8, 2019

posted by something something at 8:33 AM on April 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

Umbrella Academy on Netflix has this
posted by bleep at 8:47 AM on April 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also you'd like the episode of Doctor Who "Let's Kill Hitler"
posted by bleep at 8:48 AM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

This type of show is basically my bread and butter. Both Warehouse 13 and Eureka (from Syfy) should be right up your street, I would think. I also think that Legends of Tomorrow would scratch this itch, although it's more "motley crew of weirdos with powers stuck together and doing their best not to destroy the universe."
posted by backwards compatible at 9:19 AM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Librarians, first as several movies but then a TV series on TNT, has to do with knowledgable, nerdy people being recruited to be action heroes. Very lighthearted, a little PG sex/violence but otherwise OK to watch with kids, and the subversion that a bookworm becomes hero by being a bookworm (not by learning fighting, although there's some of that) is a nice change.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:32 AM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just about every Eric Ambler novel involves this trope.
posted by garbanzilla at 10:00 AM on April 8, 2019

posted by jkaczor at 11:19 AM on April 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

Is the Men in Black series too mainstream?
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:53 AM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hello and welcome to the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman.

And there's also The Laundry Files series by MeFi's own Charles Stross.
posted by mogget at 12:48 PM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fringe (TV show), old but not that old.
posted by bluesky78987 at 12:50 PM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Spy on Hulu:
Tim is in a custody battle with his ex-wife, when he quits his job. He applies for a job as a civil servant doing data entry, but discovers during the job interview that he has been offered a job as a trainee spy for MI5.
Come for the spy comedy, stay for Marcus, the child mastermind. Unless you're too hebitudinous.
posted by mochapickle at 4:19 PM on April 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

And there's also The Laundry Files series by MeFi's own Charles Stross.

This. This. THIS. FAR superior to the Rook, for example.
posted by lalochezia at 5:26 PM on April 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

In the early 1980's there was a short-lived U.S. TV series called Masquerade. The premise was that this government agency recruited everyday people, each of whom had some highly specific skill or talent, to pull off some caper. One episode is on YouTube, complete with kick-ass theme song.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:00 PM on April 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Enthusiastic +1 to The Middleman and The Librarians! Fringe is also great.

Wynonna Earp is a very silly and wonderful show where the title character gets roped into working for an agency that monitors supernatural activities. She's not exactly an "average person" herself, but her navigating the bureaucracy of the agency works just like it would if she were.
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:39 PM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Chronicles of St Mary's series by Jodi Taylor - a very similar concept in some ways to The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. except that Taylor got there first.
posted by Major Clanger at 10:16 PM on April 8, 2019

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