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More People Need to Watch Amazon's Best Hidden Sci-Fi Gem

You've binged The Expanse. Accepted The Peripheral. Dabbled in Outer Range. Now it's time to watch the entirety of Counterpart on Prime Video.

Jennifer Bisset
Jennifer Bisset
Jennifer Bisset Former Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
Expertise Film and TV Credentials
  • Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
Jennifer Bisset
3 min read

J.K. Simmons stars in Counterpart.


Sometimes, an incredibly well-crafted and refreshing sci-fi show inexplicably goes under the radar, even to sci-fi aficionados.

The show is laden with comprehensive character work, rich world-building and artistic visuals. Its central theme is intentionally refracted in every other facet of the show's makeup. It's all intentional. You can see and feel it.

Hello, Counterpart. A superb two-season sci-fi espionage thriller starring J.K. Simmons currently streaming on Prime Video. Make it your next show to watch properly. It isn't background noise.

Anyone who's already seen Counterpart understands how immaculate the show is. Counterpart looks like a Cold War espionage thriller based on a John le Carré novel. But no, this Rolex-level creation of precision comes from the mind of TV and film writer Justin Marks.

Counterpart is a sci-fi espionage thriller that melds those genres with perfect balance. Set in a world obsessed with formalities and procedures, Counterpart builds that Christopher Nolan-esque sense of gripping realism. It's set in a dystopian Berlin where a wall divides two very different worlds. This divide manifests in each one of the conflicted spies, ensuring every aspect of Counterpart is connected to its central idea and theme.

Olivia Williams pointing a gun on a rooftop

Counterpart features a stacked ensemble, including Olivia Williams.


Counterpart's fascinating world is seen through the eyes of Howard Silk -- played by J.K. Simmons in nice J.K. Simmons mode. Silk is a kind, gentle, sad, lonely cog working in a secretive bureaucratic organization guarding the wall. He must abide by strict rules each day: sign in, open a briefcase, say a few mysterious lines of code, then walk straight out, no questions asked.

If TV has taught us anything, it's that something is about to blow sweet Silk's world to smithereens. When it does, the impact is eye-watering. You know that by committing to this show, you're embarking on a long, serpentine journey.

A tiny man walks toward a giant circle opening, with a city in the distance

The opening titles are filled with stunning imagery.

Starz/YouTube/CNET Screenshot

In case it wasn't obvious, that journey is completely worth it. The show's finale ties up every major loose end, while also planting seeds for a potential continuation. Counterpart could have gone on for more than two seasons, but the show's original network Starz shamefully let it slip through its fingers. The eyebrow-raising reasons don't need to be repeated. In the end, the 20 episodes you do get are so complete you're able to let the series go. Plus, when you come to a show late, the prospect of two seasons is much less intimidating than, say, eight.

We need to keep talking about the style and look of Counterpart. If you like the green-code-on-old-chunky-computers aesthetic, Counterpart is the king of retrofuturism. It's Severance before Severance and has some of the best opening titles to warrant no skipping. Actually shot in Berlin, Counterpart is embossed with crisp, clean lines; it looks just as good as anything on Apple TV Plus.

No matter how far we plunge into its labyrinthine sci-fi depths, Counterpart always remains in touch with its main characters' identities. It isn't hard to invest in and care for innocent Howard, then watch with mounting dread as he wrestles with dark impulses. Anyone could swap sides in this compelling spy world, made more captivating when characters' perceptions are warped by their own insecurities.

Counterpart isn't just a show to pass the time before more episodes of The Rings of Power drop. It's a stunning piece of complete television, and you should feel great about placing your most highbrow, picky TV viewing time into its safe hands.

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