In addition to being a big spy fan, I’ll admit to being a fan of quirky reality game shows. Survivor is still the gold standard but there have been some other fun ones like Whodunnit?, which was a reality take on a murder mystery, and The Quest, a Lord of the Rings-esque show with an excellent name. That being said, with the number of reality shows growing exponentially quality tends to vary wildly. I’ve previously written about Spy, a 2003 BBC show released on the heels of the success of the fictional drama MI5/Spooks, which was a fun but relatively light show and until now one of the only espionage related reality programs.
Churchill’s Secret Agents (or Secret Agent Selection in the UK) takes fourteen average folks of various ages and puts them through the same training that the Special Operation Executive would put its recruits through during WW2. As they complete the course instructors to see who made the cut to go undercover in occupied territory to disrupt German plans. They take the conceit pretty far but having everyone dress in WW2 era clothing and use era appropriate tools, weapons and food. It’s a bit goofy, but you soon get over it and go along with it.
There’s also a character that is set up early on as a bit of your typical reality show antagonist. Luckily, that person makes a relatively quick exit and the show doubles down on showing the drama of how difficult this job was and how even good people might not make the cut because they can’t handle the pressure.
The show also functions as a history lesson by picking appropriate moments to cut into the training to explain the circumstances around spying during the war. They also highlight some of the real life people who became SOE agents; knowingly facing what was most likely a death sentence. It manages to walk the line between the created artifice of the training and the historical documentary footage to become something better than your typical reality competition show.
By the time the final episode arrives you’ve gotten to know the remaining “spies” and are invested in seeing them succeed in the final spy mission where they will need to put all of their training to use. It also results in a surprisingly emotional reveal of a one of the “spies” connection to a real life member of the SOE. It even got me a little choked up, not something I was expecting from a reality show.
I’m hopeful we’ll see another show of this type soon. It’s a fun format and has lots of potential. If any casting agents want to give me a call about an open spot, feel free!
All five episodes of Churchill’s Secret Agents are currently available for streaming on Netflix in the US. No additional seasons have been announced at this time.