The final 10 episodes of my favorite TV show start airing on Friday. We’re talkin’ Cinemax’s “Strike Back.”
Here’s the set-up:
“A high-octane, globe-spanning thriller with storylines ripped from today’s headlines, Strike Back … focuses on two members of a top-secret intelligence agency known as Section 20: Michael Stonebridge, a British sergeant on the elite counter-terrorism team, and Damien Scott, a former U.S. Delta Force operative who was discharged on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Stonebridge, Scott and the rest of Section 20 criss-cross the globe on the trail of … deadly international terrorist(s)…”
So, it’s a contemporary tale, with lots of hi-tech bells and whistles — but it still comes down to a couple of badass trigger pullers, the likes of which can trace their origins back to Frontier Partisans of old. Back to that “ranging way of war” that sparked and smouldered and raged from the 18th Century forests of the Ohio Valley to the South African veld in the 19th and 20th Century; from Apacheria to the Pathan tribal lands of India’s Northwest Frontier. Modern-day “operators” like Scott and Stonebridge are kin to Kentucky frontiersman Simon Kenton and Boer Commando Deneys Reitz; Texas Ranger Jack Hays and scout Frederick Russell Burnham.
And I love ’em.
Like another Cinemax original, Banshee (described here), Strike Back is way better than it has to be. Sure, the plotlines are cranked up to 11, but this is pulp after all (and how plausible did a 9/11-style attack seem before it happened?). Production values are high and the action is incredibly well-choreographed and convincing. There’s plenty of it. It’s an action show and knows it’s an action show — but it also has a lot of heart. Much of that heart comes from the relationship between the two leads. Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) engage in just the kind of ball-busting repartee you’d expect, which adds a lot of humor to some very dark story lines. But there is also a real sense of comradeship that the actors convey with a deft touch.
OK, call it a bromance if you must. The best bromance on TV at that.
Both actors have been picked up for major NBC fall series, so somebody noticed their good work.
The show started in the UK as an adaptation of stories by British SAS veteran Chris Ryan. The actual “first season” starred Richard Armitage as a damaged and disgraced SAS soldier named John Porter. That season is available through Cinemax on-demand as “Strike Back: Origins.” It’s quite good, though the budget is clearly constrained and the tone is different from its brasher U.S. successor.
“Strike Back” fills my cup with pulpy goodness. Like Banshee, it operates in Pulp World, where every single woman is drop-dead gorgeous — and deadly and badass and sexually assertive. There’s a lot of graphic sex in between shoot-’em-ups and explosions. I read a commentator somewhere who said that if your girlfriend likes to watch “Strike Back” with you, she’s a keeper. I already knew my wife is a keeper, but my heart did go pitter-pat all over again when I saw that she was hooked at Season 1: Episode 1, with the first pfffftttt!! pffftttt! of a suppressed MP5A3. That’s my girl.
Actually, there’s quite a large female fan base for “Strike Back.” Da Boyz have a lot of appeal. And if the truth be told, the girls love a good shoot-’em-up just as much as the boys do. Nor do they mind some eye candy (of either sex). One of my female friends has it bad for Damien Scott. The Bad Boy. Of course.
And I must say that the international locations are (almost) as stunning as the women. They certainly are shot beautifully. Ace cinematography here.
Section 20 is set to deploy to save the world one last time starting July 31. The season was long-delayed because Sully suffered a serious head injury in an off-set accident, falling out of a tuck-tuck in Thailand. Yes, he really is THAT guy. Season 4 is already running in the UK and by all accounts it’s a potent end to the run. I’ll miss the show when it’s done, but I’m glad they’re going out big.