Sky One’s latest original drama series Chris Ryan’s Strike Back must surely finally demolish the channel’s (increasingly inaccurate) reputation for being home only to US imports.
If you’ve missed it so far, the show is based on Ryan’s novel of the same name and stars Spooks leading man Richard Armitage as SAS solider John Porter – seconded to the ultra-secret Section 20 – and the ever fab Andrew Lincoln as his slightly dubious superior Hugh Collinson.
Also present and correct are Jodhi May who works alongside Porter and Collinson and Colin Salmon.
Strike Back is the sort of big, ambitious action, guns blazing drama we rarely make in this country which is a shame because on the strength of this series we’re actually quite good at it.
The show has had its detractors and sure, there’s a certain amount of coincidence at play and a few of the plot developments hardly come as a shock but that tends to be true of most action genre series including those US shows British reviewers tend to gush uncritically over.
If Spooks rehabilitated Armitage’s credentials as a decent actor after the BBC’s dreadful Robin Hood* this series must surely cement his place as one of the UK’s best drama performers.
The use of foreign filming locations (no quarries and backlots doubling as the Middle East here) gives the series a genuine sense of scale although the set designer seems to have been overly influenced by The Grid in Spooks when it came to designing Section 20’s offices.
I’ll confess to being slightly puzzling by the decision to screen the six episodes in double bills, halving the series length down to a mere three weeks while the double bill nature makes the next time/previously clips redundant.
If you’ve missed the first four episodes the final two parter airs this Wednesday but the show really deserves to be enjoyed whole so you may be better waiting for next month’s DVD release (pre-order here) which promises some extras in the shape of interviews and a behind the scenes feature.
As the headline says, the series puts ITV’s current drama output to shame. Whereas the BBC has a well deserved reputation for big drama successes (and in Survivors and Bonekickers some embarrassing failures), ITV mostly seems content to offer up an unchallenging diet of sub-standard soaps and identikit cop dramas.
Someone’s bound to mention the remake of The Prisoner but as it’s not very good it hardly detracts from the general point – ITV’s drama output is almost universally unambitious and pales when compared to past hits of the network’s glory days.
Shows like Strike Back are the logical development of ITV’s own Soldier, Soldier – they have a certain topicality, they appeal to a wide male audience (unlike much of the channel’s output) and they’re easily sold abroad.
As ITV’s new regime look at changes they can make to turn around the network’s fortunes, they want to consider livening their schedule up with something likely to appeal to those not interested in watching the domestic melodrama of their soap output.
*Much as I loathed the BBC’s Robin Hood, I think I’d rather watch all 3 series back to back than watch the new Russell Crowe film version ever again.