Noah Centineo is, perhaps, the archetypal Netflix star, a performer whose career has been in large part comprised of his work in teen romantic comedies for the streamer. Like the films in which he’s starred, Centineo has a charm that’s ephemeral; he’s an amiable presence, but one who slips out of mind shortly after viewing.

Which makes him a fit for a show with a lot of incident but no real center. “The Recruit,” a new Netflix drama created by Alexi Hawley, thrusts Centineo’s character Owen Hendricks into the midst of international spyjinks, throughout which he runs the emotional gamut from benignly interested to mildly nervous. It’s a show that ought to grip viewers — the pilot is directed by “Bourne Identity” helmer Doug Liman! — but instead drifts away as it unfolds.

The central idea is a canny enough one: Take the language of spy thrillers and apply it to a Zillennial protagonist. (Offered a martini at a swanky party, our juvenile Bond figure orders, instead, a White Claw.) Owen is a new lawyer at the CIA who stumbles upon a letter from an incarcerated past agency asset (Laura Haddock). This figure of intrigue, who goes by Max, is asking to be exonerated, holding privileged information about U.S. intelligence practices out as a form of blackmail. Soon enough, Owen finds himself in a complicated relationship with a woman whose well of knowledge includes how to manipulate an inexperienced agency hand.

There are moments of spark here, as when Owen attempts to coach Max through tricking a polygraph test. (This viewer learned somewhat startling information about the biological metrics a test like that might use!) But too much of “The Recruit” feels as if it’s on autopilot. The action, bombastic and violent, begins to run together, used as it is to juice interest somewhat at random. Gestures toward humor, as when Owen ruins his suit in Vienna and must purchase a sweatshirt reading “Vienna Bitch” to wear home, feel imprecise, nods toward the idea that jokes belong in the show more than joke-jokes. And Owen’s relationships with his social circle — along with recriminations that his very busy schedule of espionage keeps him from being a fully involved friend — feel like a 20-years-later reboot of the least interesting parts of “Alias.”

Give “The Recruit” this much — it ends with a nicely-done cliffhanger, elegantly seeded over the course of the season’s run. It was enough to make me wish that the rest of the series’ narrative lines were cleaner and that its vision for what it could be and do were less bogged down in flaccid humor. At its very end, this viewer was eager to see what lay ahead for the show; it takes far too long, though, to get there.

“The Recruit” debuts on Friday, Dec. 16, on Netflix.

Noah Centineo’s ‘The Recruit’ Is a Semi-Clever Thriller Without Punch: TV Review

Netflix. Eight episodes (all screened for review).

  • Production: Executive producers: Alexi Hawley, Noah Centineo, Doug Liman, Gene Klein, David Bartis, Adam Ciralsky, and Charlie Ebersol.
  • Cast: Noah Centineo, Laura Haddock , Aarti Mann, Colton Dunn, Fivel Stewart, Daniel Quincy Annoh, Kristian Bruun, Vondie Curtis Hall, Byron Mann, Angel Parker, Kaylah Zander.