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  • Hijack
  • Created by George Kay and Jim Field Smith
  • Starring Idris Elba, Archie Panjabi and Christine Adams
  • Streaming on Apple TV+ starting June 28, with episodes added weekly

Idris Elba was born to play the man you look to in a crisis. It’s why there’s such a strong contingent of fans calling for the 50-year-old to play James Bond. It’s also why the next seven hours of your life will be a gripping, anxiety-riddled journey if you tune into his Apple TV+ thriller, Hijack.

The British miniseries hails from George Kay (Lupin) and Jim Field Smith (Criminal: UK). Elba, who is also credited as an executive producer, plays expert corporate negotiator Sam Nelson. When Sam boards Flight KA29 for the seven-hour journey to London from Dubai, hijackers transform the routine trip into a waking nightmare – one where Sam must use his skills to save everyone on board.

The concept alone makes for a juicy drama, but the decision to tell the story in real time takes it to the next level. Each episode covers an hour of the flight, slowly building tension and unravelling twists as authorities on the ground scramble to catch up and passengers in the air react to an increasingly dire situation. It’s the ultimate high-stress look at a basic human goal: get from Point A to Point B alive.

A straightforward approach is the key to the show’s success. There are no flashbacks or expository character motivations here. In a world where TV series like to get lost in backstories or languish in monologues, Hijack trims the fat. Who are these hijackers, what do they want and how can they be stopped? Each passing scene is dedicated to those questions, and the result is captivating: You’re white-knuckled from the moment Sam goes through airport security all the way to the closing credits.

Along the way, you find characters to root for. There are families to fear for, idiosyncrasies to relate to and medical conditions to worry about. The show doesn’t dedicate time to all 216 passengers, but it does hone in on certain ones to make the stress even more palpable. These hijackers have guns, and they aren’t afraid to use them.

It’s commendable, then, that Hijack manages to provide shock without gore, heartbreak without lingering shots and fear without graphic details. In that way, Hijack blasts out tension while allowing audiences to draw their own conclusions. The show brilliantly subverts many of the other stereotypes attached to this type of storytelling by addressing them directly (racial profiling in particular) and going in a new direction. Even if you loved 24 or are into plane-set dramas, this one feels fresh and innovative. The writers also assume that viewers are smart enough to figure things out on their own; none of the twists are ever spelled out.

Sam, of course, is at the centre of it all, quietly assessing in some moments and reacting in others. He’s not a physical character but a charming manipulator who comes up with creative solutions based on what he has at hand and who is willing to work with him. Outside of Flight KA29, Sam may or may not be a good guy, but that doesn’t really matter. Elba’s gentle charm and grounded acting sell the story at hand.

Viewers do learn that Sam lost his wife to another man and that his teen son no longer lives with him, but those connections are necessary to the story: It’s his family whom Sam gets a message to before the plane’s WiFi is cut off. And it’s because of them that those on the ground are able to learn about and manage the course of the plane by negotiating with other countries along the flight path.

From there, the show alternates between the life-or-death situation in the air and the nerve-racking scene on the ground, where authority figures must make seemingly impossible decisions. There are international relations to deal with, military planes to manage and philosophical questions about the value of a human life to debate.

Through it all we’re rooted in the present as the clock ticks down. It’s such a tightly woven, carefully crafted story that its biggest downfall is the way it’s being released: one episode a week after the first two episodes drop June 28. Despite being a staunch believer in the collective experience of appointment viewing, I think in this case the schedule works against the brilliant construct. Bingeing these episodes over a 24-hour period is an intense, mood-altering experience; my nailbeds will take weeks to recover.

Whether you wait for several episodes to land or take off with the series from the start, you’re in for a turbulent flight. Hijack knows exactly where it’s headed – all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

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