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Sunday, October 22, 2006

A&E, Boo; MI-5 Marathon, Woo-Hoo
Who knows why A&E—once a channel I tuned into regularly, now a repository for fifth-rate reality shows—“burned off” Season 4 of MI-5 (known as Spooks in its native land). The network showed the first couple of episodes at 11 p.m. on Friday night—a time slot that reeks of “we’re legally obliged to run this on a weekday, but we don’t need to make it easy for would-be viewers to see it.” After the first two eps, it disappeared altogether, without any word of explanation. Then it returned in an eight-hour marathon this Saturday —between the hours of 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. ET—so, yes, I guess there is a worse time slot than 11 p.m. Fridays. Having spent a good part of this weekend catching up with Harry and Adam and Fiona and Zaf and Ruth and the gang, I don’t mind the marathon format one bit, I just wish I knew what A&E was playing at.

Of course, the show isn’t what it was before the original leads—Tom, Zoe, and Danny—were disappeared or killed off; and U.S. viewers see an unsatisfactory filleted version after A&E trims 10 minutes or so for commercial breaks (and such fine ads on Saturday afternoon—lots and lots of Bowflex).

Nevertheless, it’s the last good spy show. I like 24, but it's almost ironic, and MI-5 is far more willing to show the inevitable underside of an agency that spends billions on deception.

I wonder if A&E dumped the show because of its increasing anti-Americanism. There has always been tension between 5 and the CIA (sexual tension in the case of Tom and the CIA officer played by Rachel Corrie’s Megan Dodds), but in Episode 9 of Series 4 it reaches a new level—as the official BBC synopsis puts it, “Harry finally gets fed-up of turning a blind-eye to the CIA acting as though they run the country.” He interrupts the Yanks while they’re in the process of rendering a British subject off to Guantanamo—and as it turns out, his actions prevent the CIA from enacting a dastardly plot to draw the West into a war with Iran.

Who knows if we’ll get to see Season 5, which is currently showing in Britain, over here. If not, I’ll miss seeing the Gherkin (the cinematographers seemed to find a way to get it into every episode), hearing those dire American accents, and finding out if Ruth and Harry ever get together. And as much as I hated losing Tom, Zoe, and Danny, I did like—if not enjoy—the tension that came from knowing the show was willing to kill off any character, no matter how essential they seemed to be. Sure, characters dropped like flies in the last season of 24, but I never suspect that Jack Bauer is going to die a resurrection-free death. In MI-5 anyone is fair game—and that adds a visceral thrill to the show.

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