Tuned In: 'Strike Back' mired in gore
Share with others:
Premium cable channel Cinemax gets into the original scripted series programming game with "Strike Back" (10 tonight), an action-drama about a former Delta Force operative, Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton), who teams with a British military unit to fight terrorists.
At first, "Strike Back" seems like a highbrow series on the order of "MI-5." Oh, how British accents in this American-British co-production deceive.
After a few minutes, "Strike Back" conforms to the Skinemax nickname with a graphic sex scene, many pairs of women's naked breasts, multiple exclamations of the f-word and bloodshed galore, including at least three characters shot in the head at point-blank range. Viewers are treated to a close-up of blood and brains seeping out of one dead British hostage's head. "Spartacus" on Starz may be bloodier but it's more cartoony blood; "Strike Back" feels terrifyingly real.
Gratuitous elements aside, "Strike Back" is a decent enough cops 'n' terrorists drama. Frank Spotnitz, a writer/executive producer on "The X-Files," is a co-executive producer on "Strike Back," which turns out to be a serialized drama as the team pursues a terrorist named Latif.
Womanizing Damien Scott first shows up in the episode's most graphic sexual encounter before he's recruited by the Brits. He's paired with Sgt. Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester), who follows the orders of team leader Col. Eleanor Grant (Amanda Mealing).
Tonight's premiere focuses on a terrorist invasion and hostage situation at a New Delhi luxury hotel. It ends on a cliffhanger that will be partially resolved next week.
"Strike Back" shows off high production values and an intense, fast-paced story reminiscent of "24" or "Sleeper Cell" that occasionally dips into the ridiculous (secret codes; a running conspiracy story; Stonebridge catches a bomb in episode two).
It's too bad the show's graphic nature, especially the bloodshed, is so off-putting as to make the series unwatchable.
Sketch comedy programs have a spotty network track record throughout the history of television and in recent years that track record has been downright dismal. It's difficult to think of a successful show on a major network since "The Tracey Ullman Show" (1987-90) and "In Living Color" (1990-94). Both aired on Fox so it's not surprising to see the network take another swing at the genre with "In the Flow with Affion Crockett," which debuts Sunday with back-to-back episodes, 9-10 p.m., on WPGH.
Fox hasn't given the show much of a publicity push but the bigger problem may be that our popular culture has become so fragmented since "In Living Color" that it limits the appeal of "In the Flow" when a viewer doesn't know what's being parodied.
It's not immediately clear if the first scene is supposed to be a parody (turns out it's not) and a succession of judges in a faux "American Idol" audition spoof necessitates knowledge of hip-hop culture that some viewers may lack.
In one sketch Mr. Crockett plays Tiger Woods, but it's not that humorous. Another sketch is basically a series of put-downs when an overweight woman requests a "wake-up call" from a hotel's front desk and instead receives a series of figurative wake-up calls mocking her weight ("What's that scent you're wearing? Diabetes?" says the hotel clerk.)
"In the Flow" does itself no favors by referencing better sketch comedy shows of the past, including "In Living Color" and "Chappelle's Show" (2003-06), but since it seems like Fox is just burning off "In the Flow" before the start of the fall TV season, it probably doesn't matter.
When FX's "Sons of Anarchy" returns on Sept. 6, the show's setting returns squarely to Charming, Calif., after a tangential detour that sent motorcycle club members to Ireland last season.
The show is better for it, but FX executives don't regret where executive producer Kurt Sutter took the series last year.
"The equity the show has built through three years of storytelling, when the primary conflicts were internal to the club, has tremendous meaning, but I would argue it wouldn't have the same meaning if you hadn't spent three years building that equity," said FX president John Landgraf during the recently concluded TV critics press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif. And if that means creators need "to follow the eddies and nooks and crannies of these different sagas," then so be it.
Actress Katey Sagal, who plays Gemma on "Sons" and is married to Mr. Sutter, said she missed working with some of her fellow cast members last season, but she appreciated the story. She said this season the splintering feels different.
"There's a lot of internal struggle that goes on," she said.
"This season the trouble that comes we bring on ourselves as opposed to exterior things," said cast member Mark Boone Junior. "We invite them into our lives."
Last week, Syfy renewed "Eureka" for a sixth season, but this week that order was rescinded and the show was canceled instead. The final episodes will air next summer. ... Variety reports CBS is developing a revamped version of the classic '60s comedy "Bewitched." ... We reported PBS's "Masterpiece: Mystery!" plans an "Inspector Morse" prequel called "Endeavour" and now we know the actor who will step into the role played by actor John Thaw: He's Shaun Evans of BBC America's "Ashes to Ashes." ... PBS will air a one-hour movie episode of its hits show "Dinosaur Train" on Aug. 22 (9 a.m. WQED). ... HBO has renewed "True Blood" for a fifth season to air next summer. ... USA Network has renewed "Suits" for a second season and has given "In Plain Sight" a renewal for a fifth and final season to air in spring 2012.
Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Flying Wild Alaska," "Cake Boss" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Glee," "Russian Dolls" and press tour reports. Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.
This week's podcast includes conversation about "Falling Skies," "Project Runway" and "Awkward." Subscribe or listen at post-gazette.com/podcast.
First Published August 12, 2011 12:00 am