Class of ’09 (2023) is a thriller suspense limited series spanning multiple decades and told across interweaving timelines. The eight-episode series stars Brian Tyree Henry as Tayo, who becomes Director of the FBI, and Kate Mara, who plays Poet, one of the most successful undercover agents of all time.
Here’s the premise: A class of FBI agents grapple with immense changes as artificial intelligence alters the U.S. criminal justice system.
Executive producer Tom Rob Smith hired me as an FBI technical consultant for the show. In this clip from an interview he did with ScreenRant, Tom praised FBI Retired Case File Review and talked about the role the podcast played in him creating the show. How validating!
I loved Class of ’09, but not because I consulted on the show. I believe the writers did a fabulous job creating interesting characters and bringing authenticity to the show.
I liked that, instead of assigning two main characters the typical police or military background usually portrayed, Poet was a nurse and Tayo an insurance salesperson before they joined the FBI. I was pleased that the production team toured the FBI Academy, which you can see in the details. However, FBI agents can be highly critical of shows about the Bureau. One colleague immediately wrote off the show, stating that the instructors at the academy were not armed and the dormitory rooms did not have bathtubs as shown in the TV show. We’re a tough crowd to please. But we’re not the target audience.
For me, the Quantico scenes are some of the best, especially during episode four. They captured accurately the dating and fraternizing double standards among classmates. When the class counselor lectured Poet, memories of two classmates of mine who dated and got married less than a year after graduation came flooding back.
Another scene in episode four mirrored the death of FBI service martyr Robin Ahrens. I remember being at work and hearing she had been shot and then being angry when she was blamed for her own friendly fire death for allegedly being in the wrong place. And then there was the unbelievable cliff hanging at the end of the episode. Wow!
I asked Tom why he cared so much about authenticity and portraying the FBI right. Here’s what he told me.
1: Intention – “One of the ideas behind the show was to place the Agents at the centre, rather than the crimes, they struck me as such complex, interesting characters, in terms of their idealism and ambition, I wanted them to hold the centre of the show, along with the institution itself, how all of them change over time and how they change each other.”
2: Research – “I’ve been writing about crime since my first novel, Child 44, and so I’ve found a rhythm with research, which is put very simply, to buy as many books as I can and read all of them. In the case of Class of 09, there were an enormous number of books on the Bureau itself, and accounts by Agents on their careers. I read both types, particularly about the period of Hoover, which was so formative and radical, showing how one person can remake an institution in their own image. The memoirs of Agents were also useful, partly to discover why they joined and what they hoped to achieve. I was surprised by how many were frustrated by their experience. And of course, Jerri’s podcasts are a fantastic resource and an early inspiration.”
3: The truth – “One of the advantages of the structure is that it means you don’t need to contort reality. It’s very hard to make a show about Quantico, despite it being fascinating, but this structure enables us to slice out the formative moments and show how they lead to the events in the future. In terms of production, we visited Quantico and photographed (with permission!) all the dorms and tried to match it as closely as possible.”
I think Tom and the Class of ’09 writings, actors, and crew did an excellent job showcasing the dedication to duty and sacrifices made by FBI employees every day in real life.
As far as the scenes that take place in the future, we won’t know if they’re accurate for 10 years or more. When Tom started writing the series in 2020, the artificial intelligence discussion was not as prominent as it is now. How preceptive of him to create a show exploring the merits and dangers of the use of AI in law enforcement.