Posts Tagged ‘spy’

TV is a strange place. That little box (although it’s more like a piece of paper¬†these days…) in your living room brings you a cocktail with more ingredients in it than a long island ice tea – and just as much booze. Only on TV can you see a man make a gigantic fondant covered hogwarts cake, and then switch to a chick standing in a plastic cube while trying to blow a ball-bearing into a hole with a straw. Only on TV can¬†you have bad singing and then bad dancing, laced with bad sob stories… and then flick over to the other side and OH MY GOD there’s a man on a desert island giving himself an enema (seriously channel 4? We did not need to see that).¬†We have TV shows were we watch people watching TV, we have shows with dancing ‘celebrity’ dogs… we even have a show were we sexualize toddlers (?!) and make them compete with each other in order to vicariously fulfil some lady’s self esteem issues.

TV can be messed up. But it is the purest form of social commentary and can occasionally be the greatest form of entertainment the world has ever seen. Sometimes though, it takes a lot of delving through the mud and sludge to find those rare tiny gems that are worth switching on the box and delving in.

This is three of the most underrated, underwritten or unknown show’s you’ve never watched – that you definitely should. And with netflix you have no excuse not to.

1) Nikita 

Nikita is unusual in that it isn’t unknown – it is just totally written off. From pretty much the pilot, Nikita got a bad rep. Being on the CW network meant it was never taken seriously by anybody, and totally missed it’s target audience – and likewise, as it wasn’t a teen TV show, no one who ever watched the CW ever gave it a look in. Marketing for the show also ruined its chances, the network wanted us to think this was a show about sexy women wearing revealing outfits yet being super spies and kicking butt. People said¬†it was shallow and against feminism. When in reality, Nikita couldn’t be further away from that. Three of the lead characters are strong, complex women with dark, traumatic pasts. There is no skimpy outfits or overtly sexual scenes unless they have to for a mission, and even then it is rare. Nikita’s bad rep is totally and utterly unfounded, and here’s why.

nikita gifFirstly, it takes a hell of a lot to make an action show. Especially an action show with a full weekly roster of hand to hand combat like Nikita. I don’t think people appreciate just how difficult it is to choreograph it, get the actors to learn it – as well as their lines – and then bring in the explosions, gun work and stunts. Hell – Maggie Q did all her own stunts. And she got hurt¬†a lot¬†because of that. But Nikita never faltered, from start to finish the action scenes, especially the fight scenes, were always impressive and as good as any you would see in an action movie.¬†I guess that’s what happens when you hire an action star.¬†

alex cage gifSecondly, the strength of the characters meant that it transcended being just an action show. It wasn’t just about a fight against Division, it was about these characters and their lives before, and then after, Division. It was about learning what made them who they are, and what got them on the dark path that led them to end up in prison. Each major character was deeply complex. And in a way, we were probing them all just as Amanda obsessively did over the four seasons. For me, Alex’s story was most interesting. When do we ever have a lead character of a TV show who has a past that involves drug addiction, abduction and sex trafficking? We don’t. These issues are skirted around on a lot of shows, and maybe looked at in depth for an episode or two, but never do we see the soul of a character like we saw Alex. We knew her, and we saw her pain and then we saw her evolve past it and even, in the end, use it. Nikita similarly had a dark past with drugs and abuse, and interestingly we saw how she was moulded by Division into this person who was now so fiercely trying to tear them down. Throughout the series, Amanda goads Nikita by saying Division made her – and in truth they did.

And finally, the writing. It is really tough to write any serial drama, but spy shows have to be complex and they have to keep surprising you. Most of all, the spine of the show has to be the series ark – for a show like Nikita, a mission of the week premise was never going to work without a boatload of story development. Nikita, despite the occasional¬†derailment, did¬†that. The dialogue was great and to cap that, the cast had a great chemistry. Lyndsy Fonsecca – despite her parents having spelt her name wrong – is going to have a long and fruitful career ahead of her. Maggie Q – well, she’s already an action star, but I think she proved she can do drama as well. And that she actually doesn’t need to be wielding her fists to delve some killer blows. Melinda Clarke, as always, plays the slightly odd and manipulative villain fantastically. She’s almost pantomime, and it works. Xander Berkley actually manages to get me to hate him as Percy, even though my heart still aches a little after his (spoiler!)¬†martyrdom in season 2 of 24. Shane West is Nikita’s Romeo, but he also has a painful past and does the tortured soul well. And finally massive kudos goes to Aaron Stanford as Birkhoff who provides some brilliant one liners and at times, some much needed comic relief.

amanda gif

Nikita ran for three seasons, with six farewell episodes added on after it was cancelled to wrap things up. So we thankfully got some closure, and thanks to the great writing you couldn’t tell there was any kind of rushed ending. While it sort of went out without a whimper, with not a lot of people discussing it, and no real fuss – it was sort of fitting. Nikita did the spy thing – pulled off an impossible feat in that it brought three years of possibly the greatest spy show ever on a network usually dominated with teen angst, and with that brought all that badassery (not a word – should be)¬†and then faded into the background. Unseen. Unheard. Untraceable. Sound familiar?

Yes, Alex is drinking milk.

Yes, Alex is drinking milk.

2) American Gothic

The 90s was a revolutionary period in terms of TV. We were gifted with strongly written feminist shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena. The face of procedural and medical dramas changed forever with the beginning of Law and Order and the brilliant ER. Comedy got two of the greats with Friends and Frasier, and science fiction changed forever when Captain Janeway took the bridge and Mulder and Scully opened their first X File. But one revolution that never took off was in the horror genre with the highly underrated American Gothic.

Before there was American Horror Story – the 90s gave us American Gothic. Sam Raimi – before he made us all hate him with Spiderman 3 – had quite the repertoire. Evil Dead, Darkman and this extremely underrated series. CBS are the idiots in this story, after cancelling American Gothic after one season. Ahead of its time, and therefore still watchable now, American Gothic revolves around Caleb Temple (Lucas Black) and the town’s corrupt sheriff, Lucas Buck (Gary Cole). Though appearing affable and charismatic, Sheriff Buck is a murderous rapist whose powerbase is backed by apparent supernatural powers, which he generally uses to manipulate people to “fulfill their potential” and make life-changing choices (usually for evil). Gary Cole plays a villain so well in this show that he literally ruined himself for me in anything else he is in.¬†A very young Lucas Black is fantastic as Caleb, making himself the anchor for this wierd, anything goes series.

American Gothic was basically American Horror Story, but it was the 90’s and the world wasn’t ready for it yet. Hell – it even had Sarah Paulson in it to boot just in case you weren’t sure. The show was the epitome of strange, dark and disturbing all rolled into one. Had CBS had a backbone, no doubt it would have become a cult classic like the X-Files.

Despite its short run, it is still worth a look, and it really is a timeless hidden classic. I first saw this show when I was a teenager, about ten years after it first aired. And I remember being astounded when I discovered it was made in 1996. You really couldn’t tell.

If you get a chance, give this one a look.

3) Vikings

Vikings may be an Emmy nominated show, but I don’t know anyone but me who watches it. Where did this show come from? I didn’t even realise the History Channel made dramas, never mind dramas so breathtakingly shot, wonderfully acted and superbly written that it makes you want to sell all your worldly possessions, grow a beard (I’m a chick and I want one that includes a rather dashing mohawk), live off the land and kill a bunch of English people – a problem when you are actually English.

Vikings follows Ragnor Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) an actual 9th century notorious Viking famous for exploring the west and visiting all parts of Europe and fathering some very famous Viking sons. More notable however, at least in my eyes, is Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), Ragnor’s shield maden wife who strides into battle even more fiercely than her husband, and is by far the strongest female lead on any TV, in any country at this current time. Winnick, who had a part in the hit show Bones, was otherwise a relatively unknown actress before getting this part. However, she shines as Lagertha, really bringing the character to life and managing to portray a character both ferocious and fragile at the same time. The supporting cast is also flawless. Special mentions go to Gustaf Skarsgard¬†– another Skarsgard, just what the hell was Stellan feeding these kids? What ever it was, keep doing it! –¬†who plays the eccentric Floki, and Jessalyn Gilsig who plays the manipulative Siggy.¬†Fimmel, meanwhile, leads from the front. He gives a solid performance as Ragnor, bringing a light shade to a character that could potentially have been all dark. He does the misunderstood, persecuted farmer well, while always eluding to an arrogance that eventually leads him to lead.
But it isn’t that acting or the weaving storylines that makes Vikings a stand out show. Instead, it is just how breathtaking the show is visually. Week in, week out, we the viewers are treated to shots that surely belong in a photography exhibit or on the big screen. But it isn’t just the lovely scenery gifted to us by it’s Irish location, it’s the vision created by the cast and crew, and the impeccable direction and care given to each and every episode. It makes Game of Thrones look visually unstimulating, and when you can say that about a show as fantastic as Game of Thrones, you know Vikings is bringing something very special to the screen.

It should be noted however, this is a show about Vikings, so expect a lot of violence and sex, tons of Norse mythology and a general distaste for morals. The Viking women were strong, merciless and often rode into battle alongside their male counterparts. They were still looked down upon, but were seen as much fiercer individuals that could earn respect on the battlefield. In their own way, the Vikings were more advanced than any of their Western counterparts – and despite being reviled as bloodthirsty barbarians, it took the rest of us a thousand years to catch up (and in a lot of places in terms of combat – we still haven’t).

Overall, Vikings is brilliant and refreshing and needs to be your newest show.

What is your most underrated show?

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James Bond – arguably the most famous franchise ever. You say Bond – people say James Bond. That’s just how it works. Over here in the UK, we love ourselves a bit of Bond. Of course we do, what’s not to love? He’s British, he’s tough, handsome, charming, and he fights for Queen and country. A lot has changed over the last fifty years – but Bond’s appeal certainly hasn’t wavered.

That being said, don’t underestimate how much Sam Mendes¬†Skyfall¬†has done for the franchise. Daniel Craig’s films had been lack lustre up until now. True Bond fans were not impressed that the hero they knew and loved, was morphing into an uncharming, grumpy, gadgetless Bourne wannabe. The die hard fans longed for the days of Pierce, with his cheesy one liners and his¬†irresistible¬†charm. And so when¬†Skyfall¬† was announced, I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one who was¬†sceptical. I was pretty much about ready to give up on Bond. As far as I was concerned, there hadn’t really been a good proper Bond film since Pierce Brosnan’s¬†Die Another Day.¬†But there were hopeful signs – Adelle signed on to record the infamous Bond song – meaning we were back to having Diva’s with big voices instead of ageing pop stars – something even Pierce’s movies often lacked. Then we were treated to some even more promising signs. Not only was the classic DB-5 returning to the screen, but along with it was Daniel Craig actually making a witty retort. Thing’s started to up…

When¬†Skyfall¬†eventually came out, for me it was everything I’d hoped for and more. From the get go it felt like a Bond film. There was laughs, just the right level of cheesiness and action from start to finish. But more importantly, there was M.

Dame Judi Dench has for a long time now been a redeeming factor. Dench often steels every scene she is in, and as a character, M’s relationship with OO7 is one that has been intriguing from the get go. Choosing to have a Bond film that had as much M as it did James was always going to be a risk, but with Dench at the helm it was a calculated one. Dench gave a thrilling performance, which, in turn brought out the true essence of Bond in Daniel Craig. There was a grumpy love to their relationship, and despite the quips and arguments, you got a real sense of who the front line of defence for our country was – the rule breakers and the renegades like OO7 and M.

Also, for the first time in a long time, every aspect of the Bond film was tied up. The plot made sense, there was links to the past and foreshadowing for the future of Bond. We re-met characters old and new, and had a truly disturbing Bond villain, played so effortlessly by Javier Bardem. If you were still in doubt of the films authenticity, you were treated to explosions on the Tube, James running down London Streets, and explosions that rippled the London skyline. Even the finale took place deep in the highlands of Scotland, instead of the usual backdrop of some Russian base, or a fortified island. The whole film is quintessentially British. And while it may not appeal to the foreign fans of Bond as much as it could have, I think Sam Mendes was determined to bring back everything that he felt made Bond Bond.

And I think it was essentially that aspect that makes Skyfall¬†not only a great Bond movie, but one of the best. If your a true Bond fan, and like me grew up watching the worlds favourite spy and all that came after him, you will love¬†Skyfall.¬†And for the first time in a long time, I’m no longer worried about the future of Bond. Instead, I’m certain he will be a feature in cinema’s everywhere for another at least another 20 years, if not another 50.