Are U Hip? Are U Edgy? Boy Golly, Have I Got a Show 4 U!
"Spooks: Code 9" (UK) / Alex (the Odd) O'Brien
TV Reviews | August 27, 2008 | Comments ()
“Spooks” is a home-grown British drama show about the lives and loves of agents within MI5, our country’s secret service. In a shocking break from tradition (for any program not based on a series of books containing grisly murders or starring Charles Dance) “Spooks” set out from the beginning to be taken seriously as a drama. And sure enough an interesting and ethnically diverse cast was introduced, all with their own issues and heavily hinted moral grey zones, the youngest and prettiest of which was very swiftly plunged head first into a deep fat fryer. On screen. Because “Spooks,” we were to understand, was serious business. And, up until the dwindling final seasons when every one including the network executives in charge of advertising it forgot it existed, it was able to maintain a generally high standard.
The spin off, “Code 9”, is set after a nuclear detonation following the London Olympics in 2012 devastates the capital and necessitates the formation of a new MI5, apparently from impossibly young and pretty spies. Because that’s who you want on your side in a crisis: Really, really pretty people with really, really shiny hair. “Spooks: Code 9” is the younger and edgier cousin who skates in on one of those newfangled wheeled-boards and puts on its dance metal (or whatever it is the kids are listening to nowadays) before drinking all your diet soda and then trashing the place. This is only mild hyperbole, I’m slap bang in the middle of their target demographic (which I know is not the kiddie set as iPlayer requires me to confirm that I am over eighteen before it will allow me to get to the hip and edgy action) and the immersive advertising campaigns make even me feel like telling the whippersnappers to get off my lawn.
From the very beginning sequence, a series of smug introductions to the main cast framed as their “recruitment videos”, I decide that I hate these people. Not just a mild dislike but rather the sudden and incredibly pressing desire to hurt each and every one of the main players repeatedly with something dull and rusty. There’s Jez, the ex-criminal who is “streetwise” and “doesn’t play by the rules” with an accent more suited to the halls of Oxford than the streets; Rachel, an impossibly pretty, impossibly young police officer with impossibly shiny blonde hair; Rob, a ludicrously smug ex-medical student with a perma-smirk towards whom most of my ire was immediately directed; Vik, whose desire to serve his country is expressed before the show reveals that he is…. Asian (see? Edgy!); and Kylie, a pretty psychology student sick from the blast who evidently has no sense of self preservation whatsoever. The only bearable character in the first few minutes is Hannah, the recruiter, so of course it is written that something horrendous must happen to her by the end of the pilot. There is also new recruit Charlie added to the mix later on; he is immediately put in charge because a 22-year-old mathematician with less experience than everyone else on the team is obviously the best person to have running any kind of operation, ever.
The show’s tagline is “For Queen. For Country. For Kicks.” lest we forget that the show is a) edgy and b) British. Incidentally they will be reminding us of the following two facts throughout the proceedings with roughly the force and subtlety of 18 hippos tap dancing on the back of your skull which, after 50 minutes of this crap, is what you are going to wish had actually happened to you. The filming style on a whole is reminiscent of whenever “Hollyoakes”, — “Code 9’s” equal both in terms of script writing and acting talent — decides to do a very special and very edgy episode. For the uninitiated this usually consists of taking whatever technique the director learnt in film school that week and using it in every. Single. Fucking. Shot. In this case: Extreme close ups combined with quick cuts and jerky camera movements. This gets very annoying very quickly. The show also likes to use juxtaposition, a technique which is surprisingly effective the first time it is used — shots of Jez sexing up one of his informants (because he doesn’t play by the rules, you see) with the videotaping of some grusomeish corpses. Unfortunately by the “spies having fun in a club/police at a dark and spooky building” scene that starts episode three it has worn more than a little thin. And then come the fucking Union Jacks. Because the viewers of the show are evidently morons who will forget that the show is, in fact, British. Despite the accents and continual geographical references the entire length of the program is peppered with Union Jack flags. You could say they were going for a motif, but I think that would probably be giving them entirely too much credit. From the insipid Union Jack Challenge initiation ritual in episode one, to the billowing flags that mark scene transitions, they are everybloodywhere. Perhaps the most grating example of this is the marking out of surveillance targets by pausing the action and overlaying a Union Jack pattern on their face. This is irritating from the off, because it was already made perfectly clear who the target was by the fact he was the only person in the techno club wearing a leather jacket and scowling at people.
As far as the actual acting goes, each of the main cast members have that very special and particular brand of English accent that can only be found after the speaker has spent several years at drama school and taken at least three classes in “regional accents”. Every line is studied, measured and incredibly forced. If you can watch even five minutes without being hyper aware that these people are acting then you have far better abilities to suspend disbelief than I do. Stresses are placed on the wrong words, lines run too smoothly into one another and it’s all very, very dramatic. And annoying. (Did I mention that it’s annoying? And also: edgy.) Georgia Moffett, who plays Kylie, and is probably more recognisable from “Dr Who”, is absolutely wasted here — she outshines every single other cast member and it is actually kind of embarrassing to watch.
The overall premise of the show is an interesting one, the reformation of a society after a devastating event, but it is mainly wasted potential. The writers appear to have embraced the “Oh my god the sky is falling, let’s get drunk and fuck while it does” aspect of such a disaster with gusto, but whether they’ll explore any of the darker themes remains to be seen. They make a decent attempt with episode three’s plot concerning black market radiation sickness drugs but it quickly descends into a badly acted, poorly scripted and very strangely edited farce. There is certainly potential for the show to improve but with the current cast and production team I can’t say it is particularly likely.
Alex (the Odd) O’Brien covers British television for Pajiba. You can follow her travails over on Ink and Apples.