Ahh, TV spies. Since we no longer have Maxwell Smart to entertain us I’m quite the fan of Jack Bauer and 24. The rollercoaster action, the conspiracy theories, the explosive stunts and – of course – Kiefer Sutherland. There’s no doubt we have to check our brain at the door and overlook the fact nobody ever has time for coffee, sleeping, food, toilet breaks or encounters traffic jams. But this season still holds up well, especially thanks to new addition Annie Werschling.
So my expectations were very high when I finally, belatedly, sat down for my first ever look at UK spy drama, Spooks. Hey it’s only taken me six seasons. After one viewing I’m slapping myself. This here is hot stuff.
There isn’t much point tackling this genre if you can’t put real money up there on the screen, and it’s evident here from the get go. We open in Tehran, where MI5 are trying to take down an Iranian spy before he can make his way to London. The Brits covertly blow up a local train even though it means there will be local deaths. But nothing is as it seems. Without giving too much away, a killer virus could be unleashed in London. Talk about a ticking clock.
Compared to 24, Spooks is one very cool customer. This ensemble is quite restrained with characters keeping their emotions in check. Everything is done by the book, contrasting Jack Bauer who shoots first and asks questions later. Leading the cast is the dashing Rupert Penry-Jones as Adam (pictured), confidently blending action, dramatic fire and a hint of romance. He is joined once more by Hermione Norris and Peter Firth. As is so often the case with British storytelling, female characters are also afforded real meat, including senior females.
This series is also marked by a narrative shift, showcasing one feature plot across the entire ten episodes. Again, like 24, this will require distinct Acts, the first of which is an edge of seat thrill-ride. This contemporary tale has political outfall, deceit, high stakes and a rock solid execution. The brilliant conclusion is that we are witness to a smart thriller that keeps us guessing while delivering on action.
In recognition of its punch, ABC has promoted this series from Friday to Monday nights. Sit down, relax and hold on.
Spooks premieres 9.30pm Monday April 6 on ABC1.