New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell is creating a spy drama for HBO. Let’s use the principles of “thin-slicing” and the power of our adaptive unconscious as outlined in Gladwell’s 2005 book Blink to parse this news with snap judgments!

The as-yet-untitled drama will be set in Cold War-era Berlin, and will concern “a missionary who becomes involved in the CIA.” Thin-slice: On the one hand, HBO has a knack for nailing the historical details with big, expensive period dramas, and the idea of them recreating mid-century Berlin sounds like a production designer’s wet dream. All those clean lines and trenchcoats and snappy fedoras! On the other hand, the “morally compromised man of faith” through-line is nearly as cliché as a story about CIA agents battling Eastern European Communists behind the Iron Curtain. This has the potential to be visually arresting, and thematically ponderous.

The show will team Gladwell and Randolph with producer Mark Wahlberg. Thin-slice: What, does every HBO show have a “Mark Wahlberg” stipulation on it now? He’s already got Entourage, In Treatment, How To Make It In America, Boardwalk Empire and now this. We’re beginning to suspect that the head of HBO programming is Kathy Geiss.


Gladwell conceived the idea with his friend, The Interpreter screenwriter Charles Randolph. Thin-slice: The Interpreter was a film whose occasional moments of intelligence were drowned out by its inability to come to anything resembling an original insight, and whose murky plot details were mostly a cover for some really simplistic themes. Hey, wonder why these dudes are friends? Nah, that’s unfair. For all their shortcomings, both have proven their ability to make a whole lot of dazzling something out of warmed-over nothing, and with a premise like this, that’s definitely going to be an advantage.