The whole show exuded \'okayness\' it was not terrible, rather a little underwhelming, copying desperately from the Jack Bauer house of action and suspense, but somehow not delivering. I tried to explain this to Joe the other day, and the best comparison I could come up with was that it was the BBCs Casualty, when compared to the hit US series ER. Well meaning, trying very hard, but not quite cracking it.
After 2 hours of Iraq based action, where one man fights off dozens single-handedly (because he is ex-SAS don'cha know?) I had decided that I was going to give the next episode a miss.
Until I found out that the next two shows were set in Zimbabwe, with a convoluted plot surrounding a faked assassination attempt and the imprisonment of the hero in the infamous Chikurubi prison. Intrigued, I couldn't help but sit myself down in front of the telly once again.
It was while I was watching those two episodes the other night that I realized something that I had completely missed with the launch-night shows. Sure the stories, plots and characters are a tad ridiculous, but there is something worthwhile in the series. The plots may seem to be completely absurd, but there has been a huge amount of research put into the planning and shooting of this series. It is all very subtle, not like the clinical accuracy of HBO's Generation Kill, but it is there.
Accurate weaponry, uniforms (sometimes…) believable settings, and realistic tactics all blend together quite easily. Sure the hero is still one of those annoying an incredible one-shot-one-kill machine, while his enemies seem incapable of hitting the broadside of a very, very big barn, but there are little touches throughout the show which show the painstaking attention to detail that has gone into the show. Perhaps this is where Chris Ryan is able to make his presence felt. Listed in the credits as a \'military adviser\' or something along those lines, it does look like he has played a role in shaping the action into something a little more realistic than usual.
In the first show a team of SAS are sent into a house to try and rescue a hostage. The room clearing techniques that they employ are straight out of the SAS textbook. In fact as I was watching it I couldn\'t help but think of Pete Winner\'s description of the SAS moving in to end the Iranian Embassy Siege “we knew that there could be booby traps, no time to worry about that now, through the next door!” Anyone who saw the show will understand what I mean in light of Pete's words. I don\'t want to spoil it for anyone who didn\'t get a chance to watch it!
When dropped into the Zimbabwean bush I was also encouraged by the accurate array of weaponry displayed. So many TV shows seem to lump for \'it\'s a country in Africa, of course everyone is going to be armed with AK47s and RPGs\'. Instead of just sticking everyone in the usual camo / tshirt / AK-47 garb, they actually did some decent research. Security forces and riot police were dressed in spookily accurate uniforms, and although the police uniforms were a little off, they were decent attempts at accuracy. But, what impressed me most was the off-hand introduction of a FN-FAL to proceedings. This Belgian weapon was widely used by Rhodesian forces during the Civil War in Zimbabwe, and is still claimed to be widely used by their security forces.
Having the central character turn to his colleague and throw away a line like “Pass me the FN” muffled by the sound of advancing gun fire really ticked quite a few boxes. It may be a small thing, but it is the small things that count in these sort of films. How many historical films and TV shows have been totally ruined by one of those terrible historical gaffes?
Finally, and for me a lovely little bit of polish, was the fact that throughout the \'Zimbabwe\' double episode the characters kept out breaking into Shona (the local language in Zimbabwe). Admittedly it was pretty basic levels of Shona (probably the only reason that I could understand it), but it was yet another attempt to make the setting of the action as realistic as possible.
It looks like I am hooked now, and will have no choice but to settle myself down next week to watch the next episode of Strike Back, partly out of a morbid curiosity as to whether it is actually possible for the storylines to get even more far fetched, but also to see whether these insightful flashes and moments of excellence continue. The trailers for next weeks show suggests an Afghan setting, so plenty of potential for stunning vistas, aging Soviet weaponry, Hinds and of course UAVs (I spotted a Predator Drone roaring over the head of the main character in the preview).
Ridiculous and over the top it might be. But I will still be watching!