HBO/Cinemax has paired up with the UK broadcaster Sky to produce its first original Cinemax series: Strike Back. The show, which premieres tonight on Cinemax and HBO Canada at 10:00 p.m., is a fast, furious and enjoyable new series that blends politics and action, with a bit of "buddy comedy" thrown in for good measure.
Season 1 of Strike Back will have 10 episodes in total and will air on Friday nights. Thanks to HBO, I've seen the first two episodes of the series and I can't wait to watch the rest of the season. This show is full of great actors and an intriguing story arc, and it's not too shabby with the fight scenes. Here are five things to watch for - and enjoy - in this new show.
(Update: Strike Back actually aired its first season in the UK, but has paired with Cinemax for season 2 and the show is essentially being promoted as if it is a new series for North American audiences. While the premise remains the same, the focus has shifted somewhat in its second season. For example, John Porter was the lead in season one, but with his character's departure, new characters are stepping to the forefront or being introduced).
(1) Political Intrigue: The set-up of the show isn't breaking the mold, but that doesn't mean it's not interesting. Essentially, a Pakistani terrorist by the name of Latif manages to capture and kill a man named John Porter, who also happens to be an operative for a secret British military division called Section 20. After Porter's death, his superior (Col. Eleanor Grant) and his colleagues (Sgt. Michael Stonebridge and Capt. ) recruit an ex-Delta Force soldier named Damian Scott, who, along with Porter, is the only person who can recognize and identify Latif. After uncovering a potential plot by Latif's organization, the group heads to India to thwart a potential attack. The plot of first two episodes involve the Indian military, the Pakistani ISI, the issue of WMDs in Iraq, and potential military and government cover-ups. There's a few twists and red herrings thrown in for good measure and by the end of the second episode the political storyline that's sure to dominate the rest of the season is introduced.
(2) Amazing Action: This show is chalk-full of action, from hand-to-hand combat to flying bullets. All of it adds up to a fast-paced and brutal show that is thrilling. There's also an action sequence towards the end of the second episode that had the members of our little screening group applauding for how cool and tense it was. If you need your post-24 fix every week, then Strike Back is the show you should be watching.
(3) Lead Actors: The cast is full of attractive and solid actors and actresses, but I think it's worth pointing out that its two leading men - as the American Damian Scott and as the British Michael Stonebridge - are great in their roles. Not only are they easy on the eyes (you'll like that fact, ladies), but they're rugged manly-men whose characters have great rapport with one another. They play the comedy aspect (ie. two vastly different men whose personalities don't really mesh) well, but their budding friendship, which develops throughout the first two episodes, plays as realistic and creates a solid basis for the show.
(4) Adult Situations: This show doesn't pull any punches. It's gritty. People die. Sometimes those people aren't adults. Sure, some of them get saved, but there are a lot of casualties. People also have sex (lots of it). The violence isn't gory by any means, but focusing the story on international terrorism requires that they show the brutal and adult world that can exist in this sphere. And you have to respect the show for not sugar-coating it. Strike Back is a cable show on a cable channel and - like True Blood or The Sopranos - it doesn't pretend to be anything else but made for adults. You might also respect a scene where one of the lead actors manages to take down someone while he's naked. Which is...impressive. Seriously.
(5) Production Value & Locations: In a show focused on a counter-terrorism/military group, you would think that the characters are spending a lot of time inside a boring (albeit decked-out) government office. Fortunately, the world of Strike Back goes far beyond that. Sure, there's a few scenes in HQ or the mobile command area, but most of the action takes place in exotic locales. And nothing about the show looks cheap. There's obviously a solid budget backing this show, and if there isn't then someone out there is doing a terrific job making it look like there is. The production value of the show is terrific and adds to the appeal as Section 20 travels from Kuala Lampur to Pakistan to India in order to try and apprehend Latif.
It would be easy to dismiss Strike Back as a silly summer show airing on a Friday night, but no one should do so. It's a fun and ferocious series that blends humor, action, bromance and story and is interesting enough, in my humble opinion, to turn a skeptic into an interested and dedicated viewer. The show isn't just a way to pass the time, it's enjoyable for its own sake and you should tune in.