Strike Back: Guilty Pleasure TV

Summer is a quiet time for watching broadcast TV. So that makes me particularly susceptible to blind buying TV on DVD at Costco. The latest such purchase was Strike Back: Cinemax Season 1. It had 2 really buff guys carrying big assault weapons on the cover; not the usual stuff that I am drawn to.  However, I was perplexed that I knew nothing about this show. As I picked it up and read the back synopsis, I recalled that Season 2 was due to air soon. It was being heavily promoted on TV. So I handed the box-set to my husband and asked if he was interested. Since he was, we added it our collection.

Well, we started it that night and finished all 10 episodes within a week.  The cliff-hanger, 2 episode per chapter structure made it impossible to view just one episode at a time.



The story revolves around 2 military operatives, Mike Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and Damian Scott (Sullivan Stapleton), of Section 20, which is a covert branch of British Military Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). They are on a world wide hunt for a terrorist named Latif. They hope to find out what he knows about a secret called Project Dawn.  Stonebridge is British  (convincingly portrayed by an American actor, Winchester) and Scott is American (another compelling portrayal by an Australian actor, Stapleton), together they form a typical buddy cop duo, with heavy artillery. The story arc of what exactly Project Dawn is, concludes over the course of 10 episodes that are divided into 5 chapters comprising 2 episodes each. It is well paced, not too complex, but manages to throw a few twists and conspiracies along the way.  As the duo get closer to their target, we realise that this not a straight forward case of good guys and bad guys. The villains are not simply evil terrorists and the Section 20 soldiers are hardly knights in shining armor. It illustrates that in times of war, the degree of moral ambiguity is astonishing. I think the portrayal of antagonism between allied forces (U.S.A and U.K.) is aggravatingly realistic. It certainly doesn’t ennoble war, although it does glamorizes it.

This show is fun, with  manly men, charging into almost cartoonishly volatile situations. There are tense moments of pursuit and subterfuge with high stakes and an endless body count.  This show is somewhat formulaic. Somehow,  I find that flaw easy to overlook. The characters are not well-developed, compared to most of the dramas that I watch, but that is not too surprising. Considering it is such an action packed programme, it is no wonder little time is left for character development. There are a few more flaws that are worthy of mention. The way women constantly throw themselves at Stapleton’s character, Scott, is so ridiculous, my husband and I can’t help but laugh. It is beyond belief and becomes comical after the first few times (yes, there is gratuitous nudity, lots of swearing too). The overall tone is serious; however, there is a little bit of buddy cop humor and some chuckle-worthy bits poking fun at U.S.A. and U.K. culture clash. There are some refreshing aspects of this show that are worthy of noting;  it deserves kudos for a multi-ethnic cast and depicting women fighting alongside the men. That women also play major leadership roles is also pretty shiny.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed watching this testosterone-soaked, explosion-filled, bullet-riddled show. I was puzzled to learn that the DVD set I bought actually contained the 2nd season of Strike Back for U.K. audiences, who refer to it as Strike Back: Project Dawn. The previous season was a 6 episode U.K. production called Chris Ryan’s Strike Back.  It never aired on this side of the pond.

Richard Armitage

It also dealt with Section 20 operatives, involved in a different military assignment and had a completely different cast. The hero of the 1st U.K. series, John Porter (portrayed with steely grace by Richard Armitage), does have a cameo in Project Dawn.  I couldn’t resist ordering this original installment of Strike Back from, as it was not available in North America (I love my multi-regional DVD player and’s ridiculously low prices, $15 including shipping). As a bonus, Andrew Lincoln (currently playing a convincing American in The Walking Dead) also stars. This earlier Strike Back installment deals with the creation of Section 20, the redemption of a fallen soldier, lots of betrayal and conspiracies. The original series was quite compelling even without all the gratuitous nudity.

The show is currently airing its 2nd series in North America (3rd in the UK called Strike Back: Vengeance) and it seems to be expanding in the character development department while maintaining ridiculous Rambo-esque kill ratios.

Is it great TV? No. But it is great fun, action packed, with a little bit of MacGyver type ingenuity. It is a guilty pleasure.


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