THE NIGHT MANAGER Tom Hiddleston, in the thick of it.
THE NIGHT MANAGER Tom Hiddleston, in the thick of it.

The first episode of The Night Manager airs on AMC on Tuesday, April 19. That's tonight. Which means: It’s not too late for you to get in on the ground floor. You’ll want to, because the six-episode miniseries is easily the best thing on TV this spring, and yes, that includes the show with the dragons and angry ice people.

Based on a 1993 novel by British spy novelist John Le Carré, The Night Manager updates the book’s setting to include the Arab Spring, during which ex-soldier Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) tends the evening desk at a luxurious hotel in Cairo. A mysterious woman (Aure Atika) passes Pine a folder of documents that incriminate international business magnate Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) in an illegal arms deal. To say more would be to disrupt the plot’s beautiful unfurling; this is an expertly diagrammed and crisply written thriller that moves from Cairo, to the frigid Swiss Alps, to sun-drenched Majorca, to brittle, stately London, to the nameless Anatolian hills north of the Turkish-Syrian border. Its freewheeling, globetrotting, and glamorous locales might make you think of James Bond—and Laurie’s Dicky Roper is a supervillain as delicious as any that series has to offer—but The Night Manager is driven not by explosives, but by characters.

And these are terrific characters: Tom Hiddleston’s Pine is a blank slate, a ronin sort of figure struggling to find his place after serving his country in a theater of violence. The world of hospitality—where one exists entirely to serve the needs of others—gives him the anonymity he needs, but when British intelligence operative Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) offers him the chance to enter the fray again, Pine’s blood comes back to his body. Hiddleston is a revelation here, expressionless when his mission requires him to be, but coursing with fury and frustration beneath the surface. He’s fascinating to watch. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s tan and gorgeous, either.) When The Night Manager aired in the UK earlier this year and became a small sensation, people started calling for Hiddleston to take over the Bond mantle. This misses the point: Pine is the better role.

Hugh Laurie, meanwhile, is a revelation. American audiences know him best as the gruff Dr. House, of course, and he’s fantastic as the crisply unflappable senator on Veep, but even those familiar with his giddy work in Britcoms like Black Adder will be taken aback at what Laurie pulls off here. His Roper is a poisoned dagger of a person—the mysterious Cairo woman refers to him as “the worst man in the world”—and he oozes cruelty and iniquity while barely raising his voice above an ominous sotto voce.

Olivia Colman, too, is so fucking good here. Whether you’ve seen her in Peep Show or Broadchurch or have simply never heard of her, it only takes a scene or two to recognize she’s one of the best things around. Her Angela Burr is a complicated and fascinating woman whose pregnancy gives her a clarity of focus and an emotional undercurrent not present in Le Carré’s book, in which Burr was written as a man. Other supporting characters, including Roper’s girlfriend Jed (the fantastically tall Elizabeth Debicki), and his right-hand man Corkoran (the fantastically small Tom Hollander) are wonderful as well; Debicki spins what could be a nothing part into something that exudes genuine soul, while Hollander’s Corky is dry, vicious, and hilarious.

Ten years ago, Le Carré’s book probably would have been adapted into an unsatisfying two-hour movie, with large chunks truncated, important characters conflated, and the story’s slowly building suspense gutted like a fish. As a six-hour show, it lopes at the perfect pace to tell an involved, but uncomplicated story. Danish director Susanne Bier finds just the right emotional pitch between the darkness of the script (adapted by Hanna's David Farr), and the lush, inviting production values, only stumbling with an occasional emphasis on distracting close-ups of the actors’ faces and some self-conscious rack focusing. The rest of the time, she depicts a terrain of corruption and luxury, where money breeds indifference, boredom, and little else. It’s possible to see how the seeds of evil get planted in a world like Dicky Roper’s.

Despite its backdrop of arms deals, espionage, and Whitehall backroom dealings, The Night Manager should appeal to those who don’t normally gravitate to these kinds of shows. Unlike other thrillers, both in film and on TV (Sundance’s current jewel-heist show The Last Panthers comes to mind), The Night Manager’s plot never functions by obfuscation or by willfully withholding important information. Instead, its story is one of clarity and momentum—not to mention nail-biting suspense. I’d leap at the opportunity to watch it again for the first time. Don’t miss your chance.

Watch the first episode of The Night Manager tonight on AMC. The series airs weekly on Tuesdays through May 24.