Cinemax Original Action Series
Delta Force soldier Damien Scott finds that he fits in rather well in the double-secret British counter-terrorism unit in Strike Back, which has its series debut on Cinemax.
Like “24” in its Surnow heyday, viewers should not get too attached to recurring characters, including John Porter (a lead protagonist from the pre-Cinemax first season on British Sky TV). Captured while investigating a large-scale operation code-named Project Dawn, Porter has been captured by terrorists loyal to the Islamist mastermind Latif.
Aside from Porter, only his former American counterpart from the early days of Iraq can identify the mysterious Latif. That of course would be Scott.
Naturally, there is major friction between the Yank and the Brit, but they are all business when the bullets start flying. If the first four installments are representative of the entire season, the wider overarching storyline will be advanced by a succession of two-episode mini-arcs.
On the micro level, the show is a breath of fresh air. For instance, Scott spends the balance of episode 2 protecting an innocent young girl from Islamic terrorists (who are explicitly identified as such).
However, on the macro level, the shadowy metaconspiracy threatens to be a real buzz kill. Supposedly, Scott was unceremoniously mustered out of service because he caught wind of a plan to plant the WMD stockpiles that would “justify” Operation Iraqi Freedom. Those infamous weapons are now at loose ends, doggedly pursued by Latif for his nefarious purposes.
This sort of potential demonization of the American military and intelligence services is exactly what we do not need any more of on television.
It would be a shame if the macro themes continue in this direction, because they could spoil some genuinely rip-rousing television entertainment. As Scott, Sullivan Stapleton is an undeniably likable and engaging hard-nosed, bad-attitude protagonist. Though the relatively by-the-book Stonebridge is probably not as fun to play, Philip Winchester displays plenty of square-jawed action credibility.
There are also plenty of “James Bond” worthy women, like the gorgeous Karen David (sort of geek-famous for Scorpion King 2) as the barmaid Scott protects when the terrorists break up their hookup. Likewise, the villains are truly villainous, such as the workaholic Liam Cunningham, chewing the scenery with relish as IRA enforcer turned mercenary Daniel Connolly.
Cast: Michelle Lukes, Amanda Mealing, Sullivan Stapleton
Running Time: 360 minutes (6 episodes)
Rating: Not Rated
At least in episodes 1 through 4, the Indian and South African settings are quite cinematic, while the stunt work and effects are all first class. Scott and Stonebridge deliver quite a bit of vicarious satisfaction, administering on-the-spot justice to Islamist fanatics and their craven accomplices that should be well worth returning for throughout the show’s run.
Yet, if it loses sight of who the real bad guys are, sliding into the sort of moral equivalency frequently peddled by Hollywood, it will alienate its core viewership, while those sharing such a hostile view of American and British military and intelligence personnel will be put off by the Jack Bauer tactics gleefully indulged in throughout each episode.
Strike Back could be flat-out awesome, so let’s hope it minimizes the clichéd conspiracy themes and plays to its strengths. This week, the totally entertaining first episode is definitely recommended when it debuts today on Cinemax.
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and jazz and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit his site.