Spy Shows for Adults and Kids Alike Sneak onto Streaming Services

  • Glória. – Available Now 
  • Harriet, the Spy. Available now on Apple TV+.

Espionage is one of television’s earliest genres—the enticingly paranoid Cold War counterintelligence drama I Led 3 Lives (“Citizen. Communist. Counterspy. It debuted in 1953 and continued in syndication and reruns until about the end. Even after glam James Bond fantasies gave way to revelations about shellfish toxin, covert LSD dosing and other aspects of the seamy underbelly of intelligence work, spy shows retain an endless fascination for viewers.

Two new members to the stable have been added via premium streaming services. Glória is a Portuguese-made drama reeking of the kind of Cold War amorality that made John LeCarre’s novels wildly popular with both hawks and doves. Netflix has a variety of translation options available, so don’t be afraid to watch the Portuguese-language version. One example is the one where the show is subtitled in American English but dubbed in British English. This is evidence that Netflix has gone overboard in their attempts at translating the series.

Apple TV+ also offers this feature. Harriet the Spy, a cartoon adaptation of a Thank you—very—odd 1964 children’s book about a sociopathic little rich girl who prefers burglary and surveillance to Barbie and Ken that, in its way, presaged Bart Simpson and the South Park kids. For the entertainment, some claws of it have been removed. But enough to allow for good “What were Mom and Dad thinking?”

GlóriaThis film is set 1968 in Portugal in an unstable country where the Salazar regime is under siege by communists in Africa, Soviet militarism at its borders and overbearing American ally. Ground zero of this political crossfire is the little town of Glória do Ribatejo, northeast of Lisbon, where a shortwave radio station known as RARET beams Radio Free Europe propaganda across the Iron Curtain.

When RARET plots to broadcast an interview with a Soviet general urging Russians troops to refuse orders to invade Czechoslovakia—a move that’s expected at any moment—the Cold War in Glória do Ribatejo turns hot. At least three intelligence agencies—Soviet, American and Portuguese—are operating covertly at the radio station, all of them riddled with moles who make their clandestine operations into a sort of masked (and armed) ball.

Some of the masks do fall fast, at least for viewers. The leading character is João Vidal (Miguel Nunes, like most of the cast, a Portuguese television regular), the son of a senior member of the Salazar government whose family connections have gotten him a job as a station engineer. Engineers are crucial personnel because the Soviets spend so many hours jamming RARET. But it’s quickly obvious that João, a military veteran of the wars in Africa, was traumatized by the brutality and has switched sides, working for the KGB. He blocks the Soviet General’s broadcast, which sets off a vicious mole hunt within RARET where all three spy agencies take bloody trophies.

But if João’s allegiances seem clear, there are plenty of others cloaked in ambiguity. Is his college friend and engineer, Goncalo (Alfonso Pimentel), really just an amicable goof who only wants to hustle women and steal American rock ‘n roll records? Goncalo isn’t afraid of the molehunt. “As long as the Cold War’s hot, our jobs are guaranteed,” he explains to João.

And what about all the women floating and flirting around João: the faithless translator Ursula (Joana Ribeiro), the mysterious telegrapher Mia (Victoria Guerra), or the local girl coffee-shop girl Carolina (Carolina Amaral)? Do they spy on each other or are their sexual assignments? If the former, then who is doing the assignment, to sex in? Glória is often what von Clausewitz might have called the continuation of war by other means.

Both in content and tone Glória somewhat resembles Spy CityAMC+ aired the Berlin espionage thriller titled “The Secret Agent” last spring. Its characters include James Wilson, an American diplomat (Matt Rippy). Call Girl Secret DiaryAnne Wilson, his CIA spouse (Stephanie Vogt), Enterourage), their Portuguese sock puppet Ramiro (João Pedro Vaz) and Soviet spymaster Alexandre Petrovsky (Adriano Luz), are even more ruthless, and their bloodshed even more horrifying. It is a mirror of the past from which it was born. Glória is taut, tight and terrifying.

Harriet the Spy is probably better described as cute, though the kids’ novel on which it’s based was strange and arguably a little disturbing back in the day. Harriet M. Welsch (11 years old) is its hero. However, she misunderstands what it means to pay attention to others around you. It should mean that she should go into people’s homes to transcribe and then annotate their conversations with some acid observations about their genetics and behavior.

Her heroes are Mata Hari and Josephine Baker; her blood enemy is the snotty, rich class president Marion Hawthorne. Harriet (though possibly none richer nor snottier that Harriet herself) lives in New York City’s Upper East Side with a nanny, encouraging all Harriet’s subversive tendencies.

To be clear, as a kid I loved everything about the book’s Harriet (except her horrifying refusal to eat anything but tomato-and-mayonnaise sandwiches), especially her bitchy defiance of adults. Her creepy espionage was amazing to me, although most of it was useless from a practical perspective but satisfied what senior CIA officer Archie Roosevelt called “the lust for knowing”. Roosevelt plotted coups to in Iraq, Syria, and other little bushwa countries. He was also 70 when Harriet was born. But some of those CIA officers blowing up caves and calling in air strikes around Jalalabad definitely got the idea from Harriet.

Not as rebellious is the Harriet episode that Apple TV will be launching this week. Bart Simpson, the South ParkSince Harriet’s time, kids have redefined the boundaries of pubescent rebellion. The producers have made Harriet seem a bit smug. Think about the similar cases of old, wealthy Mrs. Plumber. Harriet is often found behind furniture in her bedroom taking notes, simply because she can.

According to the book, Mrs. Plumber is a lazy woman who loves having enough money to never have to get up from her bed. Harriet hears Harriet speak with her doctor, who warns Harriet she is suffering from a condition that could leave her permanently bedridden. The grief of Mrs. Plumber has left her devastated. The nonplused Harriet reflects—briefly—that some of the stuff you find out while spying might be unpleasant. (Tell that to the lucky CIA analysts who were assigned to collect and study Gorbachev’s poop.) After that, she returns to her job.

Apple’s TV show portrays Mrs. Plumber as a young attorney, who is trying to get a loan to open a dog clothing shop. But she’s so scared of the idea of changing that it makes her unable to leave bed. Harriet was spying on Mrs. Plumber to encourage her to apply for a bank loan to start a clothing store for dogs. The kids call it “Gag Me with an Axe”.

The show still has enough threads to interest the younger Harriet, particularly if she’s 11 years old. When I heard Harriet planning an op against her nemesis Marion Hawthorne, I had to laugh at her declaration: “For something this big, rules would have to be broken! Dark secrets exposed! The purple butterfly yoyo is unleashed! It sounds like a CIA meeting at Castro if you think that the “purple butterflies yoyo” code is for “exploding shell”.