Spooks is back, and thank the Lord for that, for I thought I was drowning in a fetid swamp of imported schmaltz. More worryingly, I was beginning to enjoy myself… I’d always steered well clear of CSI and its glitzy ilk, but Jerry Bruckheimer’s bunch of scientist cops with their bespoke tailoring and aviator shades can be quite persuasive, especially when they’re standing with their hands on their hips gazing quizzically at exit wounds on mutilated corpses.
I particularly enjoyed David Caruso’s performances in the Miami arm of the franchise. Here is a man who punctuates every scene with the kind of pithy dialogue usually reserved for Noel Coward skits, delivered dead-pan in a gravelly stage whisper oft attempted by English impressionists trying to ape grizzled American cops. He is such a caricature, that he ceases to be hackneyed, and is actually utterly engrossing.
His colleagues on the other CSI beats are similarly engaging, from the neurotic workaholic Manhattan detective with people issues (Gary Sinise), to the burly, hairy-faced William Petersen who patrols Las Vegas nursing a debilitating latent homosexuality that is so subtly handled, I’m sure the writers have enormous fun trying to conceal it from the studios: “Wait a minute. You’re trying to tell me the main character in our primetime cop show is gay? Get outta here! Who commissioned this filth?”
Anyway, I’m over all that now, largely thanks to Spooks, which as one unfortunate listings guide informed us “exploded” back onto our screens last week. Literally. The storyline of a bombing campaign by extremists targeting innocent Londoners was probably timed well enough to avoid accusations of insensitivity, coming, as it did, a couple of months after the suicide attacks on the London transport system, but, nonetheless, it is surely the very definition of topicality.
And it looks like this series will reach new levels of preposterousness thanks to Adam’s wilful endangerment of an innocent, ballsy, cockney waitress played, appropriately enough, by Martine McCutcheon.
Despite presumably breaking numerous codes of conduct, our hero brought her with him on a deadly mission, thrust her out into the open in front of a couple of lunatic gunmen while remaining safely hidden himself and, at one point, abandoned her sobbing, screaming and attached to a large bomb timed to detonate shortly after he had made his way to safety.
Adam is shaping up nicely after a shaky start – it’s always tricky taking over from established stars after they disappear off to appear in Hollywood flops, and for a while, I thought he would be just another mawkish piece of eye candy – effortlessly heroic, yet more sensitive and soppy than a barnful full of Athena posters.
But no, he has since proved himself to be spiky, unpredictable and borderline inept. Harry’s always scrunching his face up confrontationally and saying things like: “Don’t you worry about Carter – he’s the best in the business” whenever Adam’s ability is questioned. Except, clearly, he isn’t. Aside from the McCutcheon bomb debacle (which, thinking about it, was actually an entirely logical course of action), he accidentally “drops” a key suspect off a balcony attempting a Russell Crowe LA Confidential-type grilling, and calls his mate on his mobile thus blowing his cover and leading to an almighty beating at the hands of the aforementioned lunatic gunmen.
All in all it is a splendid antidote to the Bruckheimer formula, primarily in its casting. As far as I can see, American episodic dramas all contain variations on the same central characters: A crotchety middle-aged team leader, with a complicated personal life, bags under his eyes and an uncanny success rate on his hunches; a hard bodied female assistant, tough but vulnerable; a slick, wise-cracking young buck whose impetuousness often jeopardises the case; and, importantly, a nerdy tech dude/mortuary assistant/computer whiz (the actor for whom is often as buffed and attractive as his co-stars only he wears glasses, has tousled hair and is perpetually teased for never having had a girlfriend). As long as one of them’s black, you’re in business.
Spooks, though, confidently smashes these stereotypes. Previous hero Tom was moody, mono-toned and defeatist, and his charisma only materialised some way into the first series; Brainbox Ruth wears cardigans and smothers her sexuality under thick layers of professionalism and self-doubt; and the technical support here is altogether more realistic with the geeks in question being named Colin and Malcom – proper, pasty troglodytes who spend most of their time slurping tea, wiping biscuit crumbs off their corduroy slacks and bickering over who gets to show the new blond temp with the big tits how the latest microchip/tracking device/tiny camera concealed in a pair of knickers works.
Best of all, Spooks brazenly offs of its most popular stars with daring regularity.
I remember, just as the programme was establishing itself, they had the audacity to immerse Lisa Faulkner (their most recognisable star) in a vat of bubbling chip fat just as she was threatening to spark a love interest with the hitherto distant and unemotional Tom.
And in the last series, they bumped off nice guy Danny, who, despite a certain awkward charm, was quite possibly the worst actor ever to grace primetime, some boast when one considers I am including Dennis Waterman’s recent performance in Old Tricks. Danny's every facial expression looked like it had been ratcheted out of him with a crow bar and yet he could still only do two looks: confused and constipated.
Anyway, he’s gone now, so here’s to the next unlikely cast culling. My money’s on Colin and Malcom fatally electrocuting themselves after road-testing a prototype hi-tech orgasmatron designed to elicit panting, ecstatic confessions from suspects. No doubt the charred remains of their genitalia would make intriguing viewing for William Petersen and his CSI pals.
Martine: In the line of fire