Friday, May 01, 2015

The spy TV shows running right now

There are these time periods in which movies and TV shows start to follow a common theme. I don't know exactly why that happens, but I suspect it's about Hollywood corporate managers stealing everything that seems to work and getting to copy each other. We seem to be living under the sign of the Spy right about now and in this blog post I will be discussing the following TV series (listed in alphabetical order):
  • Allegiance - a show about a CIA analyst who is the unknowing son of a pair of Russian KGB spies. He is also a kind of idiot savant which can remember a lot of things and make connections that no one can. It gets really hard to believe soon as it mashes up family drama with evil SVR (former KGB) machinations, CIA and FBI operations, traitors and double agents, hired assassins, plots to bring down the United States, and so on. It's one of the lesser spy shows and I don't recommend it.
  • The Americans - I believe this is the gem of the lot. The protagonists are two fake Americans, in reality KGB agents. They live like an American couple, with the mandatory two children and their neighbor is an FBI agent in the very taskforce that is supposed to catch people like them. The acting is very good and the show is a serious one, going only occasionally over the top. Also the lovely Keri Russell makes it very appealing as well :)
  • The Assets - The Assets has ended after a single season, with the successful completion of the main plot. It was a strange mix of really good acting and rather weak characterisation. It followed the story of Aldrich Ames, a famous disgruntled CIA operative who sold American secrets to the Russian KGB. As it is a true story, the entire plot was not terribly captivating, but the problem for me was with the characters.
  • Turn - About the spy ring of the American rebels against the British during the Washington era, it is an intricate and interesting story. I like most of the characters, even the villains, which is rare in films these days. I particularly like Burn Gorman in this, even if he plays this British buffoon that understands nothing of what is going on around him.
  • X Company - Set during World Word II, it is about a company of spies working in the German occupied territories. Their newest recruit is a guy who can remember everything he sees, but is a little weird. Sound familiar? Heh

From the list above, The Americans shines bright. Good acting, good directing, but also a dedication to show the political and social issues of the time. From the ones here, it is the only one who I feel can teach one something about history and about human nature in general. Turn is also rather good, but it is too reliant on a number of characters that keep ending up crossing paths in implausible situations, and many times goes a little over the top. The actors are really good in this one, though, and it is worth watching for sure. X Company is more like the typical WWII movie, with the evil Germans and the brave resistance fighters. They do attempt occasionally to enter the grey areas, like good German officers, conflicted collaborators or remorseful secret agents who have to compromise between human values and the mission, but it is not enough. When the beautiful team leader played by Evelyne Brochu reveals that she is half Jewish and the whole story goes into Holocaust territory you can feel the show going south. The Assets was brave in not employing only beautiful actors. The main character was ugly and weak and constantly fearing discovery, hard to empathize with. But so were the people who were trying to catch him, led by an obsessive woman that acted like a blood hound the entire time. Not being able to make an emotional connection to any of the characters hurt the success of this otherwise interesting story. This leaves Allegiance, which feels a lot like a fairy tale combined with a police "special" procedural (you know the type: special person helps police solve crimes) which incidentally features spies. While I cannot really recommend X Company, Allegiance is the only one that I would recommend against.

Worth mentioning is that three of these shows are based on real events. The Assets follows the exploits of Aldrich Ames, X Company is loosely based on Camp X and Turn links to the story of the Culper Ring.

That's it for pure spy shows. I am not putting in this list shows like Homeland or Legends, which also show undercover operatives, but are not specifically aimed at spying as the main subject of the plot. Tell me what you think.