8 Great Modern Spy TV Shows You Can Watch Right Now

Love them or hate them, it’s hard to deny that spies are cool. And it’s this simple fact that over the years gave us so much great spy-related media. Well, that, plus spycraft being a profession that never goes out of style due to the way the world works.

These days just about everyone knows Ian Fleming’s James Bond and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne, or at least the movies based on those heroes. And on the smaller screen, going as far back as the 1960s, there’s been plenty of series along the lines of Mission Impossible (not quite yet starring Tom Cruise), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (not quite yet featuring any cannibals that we know of), and Get Smart (conceived by the inimitable Mel Brooks).

This infatuation with spycraft makes perfect sense for the height of the Cold War. And now that we may be swiftly heading for round 2 of that whole song and dance, you may also find yourself in the mood for some spies. If that’s the case, this list will give you some more modern examples of television shows that focus on spies and the at times unsavory but very much necessary work they do.

Whether you want your spies to be down to earth and realistic, or more humorous and lighthearted in nature, the list below – while not exhaustive by any means – should give you something solid to sink your teeth into. We’ll go into more detail below, but if you just want the list, here are 8 of the best modern spy shows you can watch right now:

  • Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan
  • Chuck
  • Burn Notice
  • Patriot
  • The Americans
  • Archer
  • Counterpart
  • Covert Affairs

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan

  • Tone: Action/Drama
  • Structure: Plot-driven
  • Length: 4 seasons

If you want spies, who better to provide them than the man himself – Tom Clancy. This particular adaptation of his works is set in the modern days and sees the titular Jack Ryan (IMDb) plunged from his cushy CIA analyst position into the world of intrigue and danger. The biggest challenge facing this show is its second season, which can at times verge on nonsensical. The rest of it, though, is solid through and through. It offers plenty of great action and pacing and is propped up by a strong cast of supporting characters. Keep in mind that if you’re a fan of The Office, you’ll be facing the added hurdle of reconciling with the fact that you’re looking at Jack Ryan, an ex-marine CIA operative, not Jim with a new haircut and a sudden career change.

jack ryan poster


  • Tone: Comedy/Action
  • Structure: Procedural with a strong overarching story
  • Length: 5 seasons

Chuck (IMDb) is a very easy show to get into. After all, its protagonist is just your regular guy who, due to no fault of his own, becomes a superspy. And while he has the skills, he remains very much clueless about that whole world. Enter his two handlers – a slightly unhinged NSA operative, and a stunning CIA agent and Chuck’s eventual love interest, in what’s easily one of the most bittersweet love stories ever put to film. These two will help Chuck navigate his new world without losing his connection to his old very much relatable life complete with a quirky family, a soul-sucking job at a major chain store, and the sweet tunes of keytar music.

chuck poster

Burn Notice

  • Tone: Action/Comedy/Drama
  • Structure: Procedural
  • Length: 7 seasons

Do not be fooled by Burn Notice (IMDb) being the butt of many a joke like the famous Aziz Ansari bit about his cousin Harris, or the more recent references on Poker Face painting it as the show of choice for less-than-brilliant hitmen. At its core, Burn Notice is a spy show with a strong MacGuyver core. If you want a series where a laid-back yet hyper-competent spy will tell you exactly how to infiltrate Fort Knox using a paper clip and an old piece of chewing gum, this is your show. If you like Bruce Campbell and his mighty chin (and who doesn’t), this show is for you. If you like USA Network’s “Blue Sky” era, then you’ll love this show. And if you enjoy yoghurt more than the average person, believe it or not, it will enhance your viewing experience.

burn notice poster


  • Tone: Drama/Dark Comedy
  • Structure: Plot-driven
  • Length: 2 seasons

Patriot (IMDb) can be difficult to get into because when you first hear about it, you’ll probably confuse it for The Patriot, the Mel Gibson Revolutionary War movie. Then, reading the show’s description, you might also get the wrong idea about what it has in store for you. But when you get right down to it, Patriot is a show about disillusionment, the psychological trauma inherent to the spy profession, and the overwhelming sense of duty necessary for someone to be a successful operative. At its funniest, Patriot will teach you how to properly fight a dog, how to knock a woman unconscious with a bicycle, and how to get a gun in Paris. But above it all is a very human core drenched in folk music, friendship, and an overwhelming sense of sadness. Combine it all and you get a show that’s odd, poignant, and downright mesmerizing.

patriot poster

The Americans

  • Tone: Drama
  • Structure: Plot-driven
  • Length: 6 seasons

Unlike most other shows on this list set in the modern days, The Americans (IMDb) is a period piece depicting the very much uncertain era of the mid-to-late 1980s, when the Soviet Union was on its last legs, and its spy apparatus was the only branch of the government still worth anything. The show then follows a family of Soviet spies living deep undercover as American citizens. This setup allows the show to explore the themes of loyalty to the cause, raising a family as a spy, and the precarious balancing act of keeping up your cover identity while performing your clandestine duties.

the americans poster


  • Tone: Comedy/Animation
  • Structure: Procedural with some plot-driven seasons
  • Length: 14 seasons

Archer (IMDb) is a fine example of adult animation – clever, foul-mouthed, raunchy, and hilarious. The show’s animated nature allows it to take a much less serious approach to the subject matter, and be a great parody of other spy-related media. And yet within this framing, Archer still manages to touch on some issues often overlooked by other, more serious, spy shows. Like the dangers posed by discharging a firearm in a tight space and the tinnitus the prolonged exposure to such loud noises is sure to get you. Endlessly quotable and with enough variety to satisfy any mood, Archer is not a show you should overlook.

archer poster


  • Tone: Drama/Sci-Fi
  • Structure: Plot-driven
  • Length: 2 seasons

Counterpart (IMDb) is another Cold War-themed show. Only this cold war isn’t waged by any global powers, but instead two parallel versions of the same universe. The sci-fi angle is also enhanced by the theme of a dangerous flu-like pandemic altering the course of one of the universes to a great extent, which can be seen as a prediction of the COVID outbreak that hit the real world just a couple of years after the show ended its run. The show’s other standout feature is J.K. Simmons, who has to play two versions of the same character. Only in one universe, he’s a meek office worker, and in the other a ruthless operative. And whenever one of them has to impersonate the other, you can’t help but be impressed by Mr. Simmons’ acting skill, which alone makes the show worth watching.

counterpart poster

Covert Affairs

  • Tone: Action/Drama
  • Structure: Procedural with an overarching story
  • Length: 5 seasons

The title of Covert Affairs (IMDb) is a pun that tells you exactly what kind of show it is. On the one hand, it’s a show about covert affairs, of the kind CIA engages in, as seen through the eyes of Annie Walker – the show’s protagonist who joins the agency at the show’s start. And on the other, it’s a show about covert affairs of the extramarital kind, which are a key part of the whole series. If you want your spy show to have more than its fair share of romance, then Covert Affairs should be a prime destination for you. And whether you stick around for all the double agents and their hidden agendas or all the steamy love triangles, chances are you’ll end up satisfied.

covert affairs poster
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Val Hull
Val Hull

Resident role-playing RPG game expert. Knows where trolls and paladins come from. You must fight for your right to gather your party before venturing forth.

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