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Spooks is back - The Ex-Communicator

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September 21st, 2010

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11:38 am - Spooks is back
It's no secret that I am bowled over by a small number of TV shows that have originated in the US over the past few years. My argument is that, being 4 or 5 times larger than the UK in population, the US has a numerically large enough pool of highly educated viewers to support a specialist TV sub-industry (business model - delivering rich viewers to advertisers). Mad Men for example has - I recently read - the most affluent audience of any TV show ever made. Non-affluent me can hitch a ride.

In the UK we develop disproportionately large numbers of brilliantly creative people in arts and sciences, and disproportionately squander and destroy them. And when they do succeed it's almost in the teeth of the philistine upper classes who control our industries, by simply being so good. For example an easy-watching TV show or a daft children's book or a pop song, which manages to inspire a devoted response almost out of proportion to its qualities. This media trick at least is within our reach - Doctor Who and Harry Potter are two world-class examples - in many ways stupid and trivial but stimulating a creative response in the consumer.

Anyway, I am over-complicating my post as usual. I read an article in the Guardian on Saturday, comparing Spooks to 24.
When 24 finally drowned in a puddle of its own ridiculousness earlier this year, few tears were shed. By the end, even when Jack Bauer was hurling knives he'd just been stabbed with through passing terrorists' throats, viewers could only roll their eyes and yawn. But while 24 is dead and buried, chances are you didn't expect Spooks to outlive it.

He's right. When 24 first came out I was studying TV writing and its formal daring and genre-pushing content impressed the heck out of me. I felt Spooks was pretty ridiculous in contrast. Now, almost 10 years later, my feelings are quite reversed. 24 was too technical and heartless, and Spooks has passed into that next realm where we excuse what we actually see on the screen, looking through it to what it suggests. While 24 had to hysterically up its stakes, with Jack's daughter kidnapped by a serial killer (again), Spooks has managed to keep finding its ground.
Another reason for its longevity is because, you know, Spooks is good. Like, actually really good. Without any narrative gimmicks, it can squeeze more into an hour than 24 managed in six months. The first episode alone contains a funeral, an assassination, political intrigue, al-Qaida, Somalian pirates, double-crossing prostitutes, drugs, explosives, bomb-filled submarines and electromagnetic pulse bombs. In terms of scale and suspense and sheer balls-out momentum, there's hardly anything homegrown that can touch this.

Last night's episode was really a complete load of silly tosh, but at least it managed to suggest the emotional and moral significance of a maverick spy killing under the radar of legal oversight, in a way that Jack Bauer never quite did. The goodies commit torture in Spooks, just like they do in 24, but I don't think anyone would use the show as an argument for torture, as they did with 24.

How much of the freight of this episode was down to the single-handed efforts of Peter Firth, I am not sure. Certainly he gave it all he had, and it was great.

Oh - and there was a massive Mad Men reference in the last 30 seconds of the show (introducing Iain Glenn). I will not say what, but it will be interesting to see what extent the BBC intends to cannibalise AMC's work. I say 'have at it bitches'.

(4 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:September 21st, 2010 02:39 pm (UTC)
*****the single-handed efforts of Peter Firth*****

Well, and Ruth too of course. How cool that Harry and Ruth have completely swapped roles. I'm hoping for much more of these two this series.
[User Picture]
Date:September 21st, 2010 02:46 pm (UTC)
True, Ruth was excellent too.
[User Picture]
Date:September 23rd, 2010 12:36 pm (UTC)
Spooks went through a bit of a wobbly patch around season 5 or 6 but then picked up. And I'm convinced that it's because they finally realised that Harry is the main character - not the revolving door of agents, interesting though they can be. I even get used to Roz after a while - on the grounds that she may be a complete psycho but you'd definitely want her on your side in a tight spot...

But it is, by far, the most consistently exciting program on television, despite being pretty ridiculous much of the time.
[User Picture]
Date:September 23rd, 2010 12:44 pm (UTC)
I did stop watching it for a couple of seasons, so it was probably around then. I love Ros unconditionally. Hermione Norris should be in more things.

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