Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it, I wasn’t aware of Strike Back’s existence until the week of the season 2 premiere… or rather the season 1 premiere on Cinemax here in the States. Before we get into the premiere, let’s go through some history.
Strike Back is a show that was created by the Sky1 over in the UK. The show was well received both critically and commercially. Recently Cinemax has been in the process of putting, for the first time ever, original programs into production. The most high profile was/is the upcoming Transporter show based on the hit film series.
But rather than wait for that show to premiere later this year, they decided to pull a Torchwood and help Sky1 finance Strike Back. So, now with Cinemax as a co-financier, we have Strike Back season 2, which is being passed as season 1 in the U.S.
And that brings us to the question that we’re all wondering, is season 1/season 2 any good?
Well, before answering that question is should be noted that the show barely resembles what it was in the first season. Pretty much the only thing to carry over is the secret division of MI:6, Section 20. And even that has been given a major face lift along with the rest of the series.
*The following two paragraphs contains a major spoiler from the Season Two premiere… if you’re currently watching the first season you may want to jump past the image.*
The premiere of season 2 begins with the star of the previous season, John Porter being held hostage by a group of terrorists being led by a man named Latif, that is threatening to kill him live via webcast if their demands are not met. Oddly enough, half-way into the premiere, Porter is shot point blank in the head, making it very clear that he is out for good.
It’s some 24 level “Holy shit, they did not just do that” plot style. Now, there is a behind-the-camera reason why the decision to kill Porter was made, but as a good friend of mine put it “dude went out like a fucking champ,” and you know what, he’s totally right. Porter went out tragically, but without fear. It’s a death almost too fitting for the man we got to know in season 1. It’s a damn good job.
And that brings us to the two brand new leads of the show, current Section 20 agent Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and former U.S. soldier Damian Scott (Sullivan Stapleton). From the first scene where the two are together, it’s clear that the writers want to give the show a better “friend” vibe, especially considering the events of season 1.
Instead of season one’s John McClane style man on a mission, the show’s format has gone more buddy cop with terrorists. There’s a scene in the trailer of season two that is a perfect example of the rapport the two share. The scene features Stonebridge and Scott in a stairwell holding AK-47s:
Scott: “How many men have you taken out?”
Stonebridge: “Two, you?”
Stonebridge: “Ha, that’s good.”
Some might argue that the series has become “Americanized” compared to what we saw in season 1, but I would argue that only holds true in the cinematography (which was very clean compared to some other UK shows). Beyond that, the type of stories Strike Back tells is still the same.
The threat of terrorism is still very real. The covert military operations are still very real. And the tone is still very serious, even the first season has short bursts of humor like the aforementioned one.
I was able to watch the second episode of the series which doesn’t air until this Friday (and you can too over at Cinemax.com whether you’re a subscriber or not). They are also still playing episode 1 there for free as well), and what I will say is that the show definitely maintains its intensity.
It also helps that the new season is keeping the format of taking two episodes to tell a story. It allows for more time with the characters of a single time period and it also allows the events of the story to unfold in a more realistic manner, similar to, you guessed it, 24.
This show is indeed the filler US audiences needed for the hole left behind by the departure of 24 last year. And as long as the show maintains its current level of quality, than it will indeed be the first win for Cinemax in their brand new game of original programming.
To listen to the latest episode of Merrill’s TV Podcast, The Idiot Boxers with Kevin Carr, head over toFat Guys at the Movies.