Special Ops: Lioness Review

Special Ops: Lioness
Tough super-woman Cruz (Laysla De Oliveira) joins the US Marines to escape her abusive boyfriend and is soon recruited by a CIA bigwig (Zoe Saldaña) to be part of her elite undercover unit.

by Boyd Hilton |
Published on

Streaming on: Paramount+

Episodes viewed: 2 of 8

Word to the wise: if you have ambitions to join the CIA’s top-secret all-female “Lioness” programme, and go deep undercover to befriend women in the Middle East whose husbands, friends or relatives might be terrorist operatives, then do not, under any circumstances, get a tattoo. Prolific writer/showrunner Taylor Sheridan (YellowstoneTulsa King et al) deploys this detail about the danger of tats blowing your cover early on in the opening episode of this slick, hectically paced espionage thriller to powerful narrative effect, while also underlining the show’s apparent authenticity.

Special Ops: Lioness

But as convincing as the overall intelligence-agency milieu seems, helped by what feels like a pretty big budget for the action set-piece bits, there are also some implausible/ unintentionally funny moments, like when our young hero Cruz (Laysla De Oliveira) literally stumbles upon a military recruitment centre and signs up within seconds to change her life forever. Sheridan does not mess about.

Further proof that TV’s busiest showrunner knows how to put a big, ballsy TV drama together.

One of the series’ more compelling strands explores how working for a relentlessly demanding organisation like the CIA must impinge somewhat on one’s home life. Take Zoe Saldaña’s character Joe: when she finally gets home from her exhausting special ops, she’s got a slightly mopey but essentially sympathetic husband (David Annable), plus a mightily pissed-off teenage daughter and her slightly less troubled younger sister, to wrangle.

Joe is refreshingly unvarnished when it comes to parenting, effectively telling her teen kid to eff off, and Saldaña is thoroughly convincing in both the domestic scenes and when fronting America’s ‘war on terror’. And despite starry supporting roles for Nicole Kidman and Morgan Freeman (who doesn’t appear in the first two eps), the show’s MVP is undoubtedly De Oliveira as Cruz, who’s put through an almost comically intense training program.

Despite its flaws, Lioness is further proof that TV’s busiest showrunner knows how to put a big, ballsy TV drama together. So while you may initially come for Saldaña, Kidman and Freeman, you’ll stay for the show’s real star: storyteller extraordinaire Taylor Sheridan.

Despite occasionally stretching plausibility, Taylor Sheridan’s latest event TV series mixes explosive espionage action with domestic issues to mostly absorbing effect.
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