For years, American studios have struggled to produce a credible secret agent show, with personal drama and story arcs that aren’t hopelessly soap operaesque. Apart from the more cartoonish ones that have succeeded on a certain level, the “gritty” ones have failed to entertain me (I’m especially thinking of 24 here).
But MI5:Spooks is great. It strikes a balance between cliffhanger episodes and well-resolved ones, it has longer story arcs without going to ridiculous extremes, and it has great characters that it is willing to demolish on George Martin levels. It’s got problems, to be sure, but I’m not here to quibble. I’m here to gush and see if anyone else is on board here. And, of course, to raise awareness. You need to torrent this at the least, and the real dvd’s are a decent value.
Also, I’ve gotten to the ending of season 4, and am in the process of acquiring 5 (alas, the stalwart Iraqi bootleggers only did up to 4). So, no spoilers please.
If you like Spooks/MI5, I recommend The Sandbaggers. It’s a late-seventies/early-eighties BBC spy drama that includes some of the most tightly-plotted and believable cloak-and-dagger action that I’ve seen on TV or film. (Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country series of graphic novels is an unofficial sequel, of sorts, to a TV series that only lasted three seasons before ending after its creator’s untimely death.)
I have season 1 on DVD, but held off on 2 due to the insane price for basically a handful of episodes.
I like the show, but it really does have some major issues. Like MI-5 basically revovling around those three agents. They do everything… Northern Ireland and the IRA? Check. Middle-eastern counter-terrorism? Check. Regular counterespionage? Check. Seriously, I think the British budget is big enough to hire a fourth or fifth agent for some of these tasks.
I mean to look into getting the DVDs for this series but I can’t help thinking back, oh about 25 years?, to a show I think was called CI:5 (The Professionals?) which was a British/BBC spy drama. I have the quote “NO COMPROMISE!” burned into my brain to this day… ring a bell to anyone else? Really just going off the cuff here; probably should Google a bit. :/
Matthew McFayden wanted out, basically eyeing a movie career. Interestingly, he and Keeley Hawes (Zoe) hooked up during Season 1, even though she was recently married. She got a divorce, they got hitched, and then she left the show after he did. They’ve got an upcoming movie together.
At first I was in the same boat, but I really admire the way they handle what would have been a show-ender in almost any comparable series. Also, I found the new characters in keeping with the different direction the series took, and I enjoyed the general focus on less exceptional characters that were no less enjoyable in the long run.
Of course, the series goes over the edge from the very beginning with the casework the team handles, and I would have enjoyed more of the sort of episode like “the cleanskin” where they bring in outsiders or unknowns to do the undercover bit. Less so than the range of their cases generally, it is the variety of undercover assignments that a single character is asked to do that bothered me. I would have preferred more “handler” type situations, which would add to the (semi) realism and give more of the sort of dialogue intensive situations at which the show excels.
The same leeway I give to most of the better dramas on tv applies: I don’t mind if their characters are the center of the universe.