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I couldn’t stop watching Netflix’s The Gentlemen, and I’m not even sure it’s good

 A still of Theo James as Eddie Halstead in Guy Ritchie's new Netflix series The Gentlemen.
A still of Theo James as Eddie Halstead in Guy Ritchie's new Netflix series The Gentlemen.

It took me less than a week to chew through The Gentlemen, a new Netflix series based on the premise of Guy Richie’s movie of the same name. Yet despite my capacious appetite for it, I’m still not convinced The Gentlemen is all that good.

Like the movie, the core conceit of The Gentleman is marijuana farms being built under the land of stately homes in England; the farms are kept out of sight, and cash-strapped landed gentry get money to keep their estate running.

Only rather than focus the action around a weed baron and his slick accomplice as they navigate a potential takeover and the prying eyes of a corrupt private investigator, the Netflix series focuses on a newly minted Duke of Halstead, one Edward "Eddie" Horniman, who is suddenly pulled out of the army to take over his father’s estate after his older brother, the would-be heir, is passed over.

A takeover is still in the cards, but the Duke (played by Theo James of The Divergent series fame) needs to keep the current occupants – who happen to be led by a prominent London crime syndicate – happy, while also trying to extract his estate from being a component in a massive weed-farming enterprise.

The premise here is fine, and would work well as a follow-up movie to the original The Gentlemen; not that such a sequel is needed, as Richie’s movies tend to be very self-contained. However, I wasn’t sure the plot could sustain eight episodes.

Snatch-ing at stories

And I’m still not sure.

A lot happens in the Netflix series, with the Duke inevitably ending up rubbing shoulders with Britain’s criminal underworld, with both dire and comedic effects. But the show bounces around a lot – the first episode alone sees the Duke introduced to Susie Glass (played by a Kaya Scodelario of Skins fame) a second in command of the marijuana organization, a brutal Liverpudlian gang with twisted religious undertones, and Stanley Johnston (played by Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito) a polite billionaire drug lord looking to buy the weed business from the Duke and Glass.

So enough is going on at speed to keep my attention, something that’s been a hallmark of Richie’s gangster films. But while the tight pacing of a Richie movie lends itself to a decent suite of characters and moving parts, when stretched over a series the seams of intertwined characters start to come apart.

With the story written by Richie, there’s a whole load of callbacks to his previous gangster movies; we see foppish upper-class folks attending seedy underground boxing matches, cockney gangsters a-plenty, Irish travelers, Vinnie Jones, and more. It’s hard to stop watching when one wonders which type of gangster we’ve seen in Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels will pop up next.

However, none of these have enough time to have much impact. Outside of a scene-chewing performance by actor and comedian Peter Serafinowicz as a brutal Scouse gangster with a warped sense of justice, other elements of The Gentleman feel slightly undercooked.

The Liverpudlian gang seems set up to be an amusing adversary to the Duke and Glass, especially given its leader, The Gospel, has a chilling habit of preaching scripture while dispatching his victims. However, the potential for a story to bloom here, complete with darkly amusing deaths, never takes root.

Then we have Stanley Johnston, furnished with the sophisticated menace previously seen in Esposito's portrayal of Stanford Edgar in The Boys and Gus Fring in Better Call Saul. It’s nice to see Vinnie Jones back playing enigmatic characters, but his story in The Gentleman is so undercooked it would probably give one salmonella.

Too often I felt like compelling storylines were set up only to whither as The Gentlemen threw more characters into the mix. I won't argue that Richie’s movies have highly nuanced and layered characters, but in a short-sharp movie that’s fine – in a series I need more.

That’s not to say The Gentleman wasn’t enjoyable, as there were some neat subplots following weed-growing expert Jimmy and the Duke’s hapless brother Freddy. And there’s a comedic edge to the series that means you’re not meant to take it too seriously, which makes The Gentlemen very bingeable.

No characters to leave me Swept Away

Theo James in The Gentlemen
Theo James in The Gentlemen

However, my issue with The Gentlemen’s pacing also affects its characters. Esposito is consistently great in his scenes if underused, but I’m not convinced by James’ portrayal of the Duke of Halstead – I can’t tell if he’s trying to play a fish-out-of-water or a cool upper-class James Bond; at times he’s a little too slick. Scodelario’s Susie Glass adopts a convincing cockney accent that’s a far cry from Skins' Effy Stonem, but too often she feels like an imitation of Michelle Dockery’s Rosalind Pearson of The Gentleman movie; I never felt there was much growth or depth to Glass, despite her popping up in every episode.

Somewhat two-dimensional characters framed in glamorous locations make me feel like The Gentlemen is more of a side-glancing pastiche of the movie; were this the seedier side of the internet, I’d not be surprised if it segued into a NSFW parody.

But there’s fun to be had with some of the minor characters. The cocaine-addled Freddy, played by Daniel Ings, is gloriously chaotic. Elsewhere, Michael Vu’s Jimmy offers innocence mixed with stoner logic. It’s also fun to spot seasoned TV actors pop up, including Max Beesley – a veteran of British drama – and Kristofer Hivju, who many will know as Game of Thrones' Tormund Giantsbane.

This and the constant compulsion to see what Richie-isms the next episode will bring led me to binge through The Gentlemen. And if you’re a fan of his previous gangster movies then the Netflix series will likely hold some appeal to you.

Yet when the metaphorical final curtain landed on The Gentlemen, I felt a tad unsatiated. Pacing aside, it felt like The Gentlemen was missing a killer hook, likely because Hugh Grant isn't playing a seedy cockney private detective who steals every scene.

There are murmurs of a second series, so perhaps that’s where The Gentlemen will find its footing, but right now it falls short of the movie’s slick dark comedy yet is still fine for fodder for a bit of low-stakes binge-watching.

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