Spooks Season 4

In what is now an annual ritual, I will sing the praises of the BBC television drama Spooks (aired in the U.S. as MI-5 on A&E) and note that season 4 will release on DVD in the UK on Sept 4. With the dollar as weak as it is versus the pound, I would usually recommend waiting for the show to air in the U.S., but Season 4 shows no signs of appearing on A&E anytime soon, and the show is just that good. So if you have a region-free DVD player, and you should, then pre-order this (or you can, of course, prowl the internets for a torrent).

MI5 is the UK's anti-terrorist security service, and the show dramatizes the campaigns among a core group at the agency. It's addictive adrenaline-pumping, and in my TiVo queue, it's in the top spot even if it shows no signs of re-appearing on this side of the Atlantic anytime soon. I can think of few other shows so willing to put its main characters in (SPOILER ALERT: don't click on the next link unless you've seen all the episodes, b/c the roster of deceased characters is a huge spoiler) bodybags on such a consistent basis, but that's part of what makes it so good. The show doesn't adhere to the usual rules.

Season 4 is brilliant, as always, and the season finale, in a proud tradition, is mind-blowing. As you'd expect from a British production, the acting is first-rate, filled with a roster of handsome faces. Peter Firth, in particular, is unforgettable as MI5 director Harry Pearce. One just feels safer when one's spies have a British accent, from Alec Guinness's George Smiley to the various incarnations of 007 (Scottish accents, too, if we include Connery, and we do, wholeheartedly). They sound smarter, and the accent confers a certain swagger and ruthlessness that is dangerously soothing in our intelligence personnel.

I'm a sucker for spy thrillers, and it's surprising that American television only has 24, which is good but has more of a pop sheen. Another show that I enjoy that has a similar feel to Spooks, though adapted to a Japanese futuristic sci-fi world, is Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex. It airs on the Cartoon Network and the two seasons are available on DVD in the U.S. Don't expect the production values or intense action sequences of the movie from which the TV show derives. The TV show has even more of a cerebral feel, but it's entertaining in its own right.

Random unrelated factoids from Sean Connery's IMDb Trivia:

"Said in an interview that during the filming of Never Say Never Again (1983), he was taking martial arts lessons and in the process angered the instructor who in turn broke his wrist. Connery stayed with the wrist broken for a number of years thinking it was only a minor pain... the instructor was Steven Seagal."

"Turned down the role of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings series (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)) because he didn't want to film down in New Zealand for 18 months, and could not understand the novels."

"Turned down the role of the Architect in The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003)."