Strike Back: Vengeance Episode 1 Review

“Television by numbers”

So when our intrepid editor asked me if I wanted to review the new series of Strike Back there was no way I was going to refuse. It’s one of those shows I knew the premise of—based on Chris Ryan’s novel of the same name–thought it might be fun to watch some time, but never quite found enough hours in the day. But being asked to review it, well, it’s enough of a kick to sit down and watch it.

But of course I had to do some research, and quick whizz around the web had me slightly nervous as I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between this show and Ultimate Force, the SAS drama vehicle that ITV managed to squeeze a few seasons out of to keep Ross Kemp out of mischief a few years ago. And, well, personally I  think domestically produced action adventure is not something ITV have done particularly and consistently  well since the heyday of ITC shows in the 60s.

But back to Strike Back. The one thing that stood out from my research was that this was the third season but the second with the financial support of American network Cinemax. Lo and behold, within the first couple of minutes we’re introduced to a unshaven American who’s been mysteriously allowed to work for the Brits…so it’s scripting by design, rather than creation then.

Quickly the teaser sets up the initial storyline, with senior British diplomat Patrick Burton (played by the excellent Tim Piggott-Smith), junior attaché Rachel Dalton and a Libyan civil servant being kidnapped in Nairobi. I couldn’t help but think of Saracen—ITV’s late 1980s attempt to make an action adventure show, but to be fair Sky have spent a lot of money on Strike Back, and a lot of it appears on-screen; it looks lovely, is definitely shot on location and is beautifully produced.

It’s all good stuff if you like this sort of thing and let’s face it the chances are most of the audience know what to expect purely from the show’s title; good action, good car chases, loud and colourful explosions. But it’s hardly original.

It feels a bit like television by numbers, like the producers came along with a list of bullet points that had to be achieved in every episode; you get predictable gun fights, predictable and pointless sex scenes (I guess Cinemax have to compete with HBO in the States). Only at one stage in the first episode—when a training exercise goes horribly wrong with a serious and unpredictable twist—did I really sit up and pay attention.

The show concentrates on the plot rather than character. Having come fresh to the show with this series I can’t think of one memorable character in the two episodes I’ve just seen. You don’t feel any emotional bond to the characters and certainly don’t care if they live or die.  With the likes of Richard Armitage, Amanda Mealing and Jimi Mistry in the previous two seasons I can’t help but wonder whether I’ve missed the best the show has to offer.

If you like this sort of thing it’s well worth watching, for there’s nothing else on air at the moment that compares to it and it’s well shot, well produced entertaining stuff. But I can’t escape the feeling it could have been so much better and less predictable.