The body of Spooks with very little of the brains, the first episode of Sky1’s Strike Back: Project Dawn offers much in the way of nudity and action, but little in the way of a compelling narrative.
Airing in the Sky1 slot formerly occupied 24, the setup here is pretty standard; returning Series 1 lead character John Porter, a government agent played by ex-Spooks star Richard Armitage, has been kidnapped by the head of a Pakistani terrorist organisation, a man known as “Latif”. After a botched rescue attempt, Section 20, the secretive branch of MI6 for which Porter works for, tasks one of its officers, Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester), with finding former US Special Forces operative Damien Scott; one of the only men that can accurately identify Latif, and saving Porter’s life.
Though officially this is the second series of Strike Back, proceedings are easy enough to follow for first-time viewers, in part because the 10-part co-production with HBO acts as something of a reboot in a similar vein to Torchwood’s recent Miracle Day co-production between the BBC and Starz, but also because the actual story seems to be almost a secondary consideration, with the emphasis instead being on pleasingly-ridiculous set-pieces and shock value. Nudity, sex, swearing, cheesy dialogue and graphic violence litter this opening hour.
Entire action scenes ensue between the protagonists and, as Stonebridge terms them, “the bad guys” without the viewer being given any hints as to what these people want or who they even work for. The tone is decidedly low, but the action rockets along quickly and efficiently enough, with every cent of the extra HBO budget visible on screen whilst avoiding the Americisation issues which have plagued Torchwood: Miracle Day. Meanwhile, convincing performances from Sullivan Stapleton as womanising action-hero Damien Scott and Amanda Mealing (Holby City) as the enigmatic head of Section 20, Eleanor Grant, ensure that the episode never struggles to hold the audience’s attention, provided they aren’t put off by the show’s overt themes.
The main problem with Episode 1 is that Project Dawn’s story arc, the true origin of Latif’s mysterious titular plan, is hardly explored, and indeed is only mentioned in passing once or twice. Though the introductory episode of a TV series should certainly leave some things to the imagination to keep the audience coming back for more, this opening instalment arguably doesn’t explore the main story arc enough for the audience to be interested at all. If the balance of story and action here sets a precedent for the rest of the series, we worry that viewers may not feel compelled to watch subsequent episodes without a suitably compelling narrative. Having said that, the episode ends on a reasonably surprising cliffhanger that should keep audiences intrigued for at least one more week.
Certainly a drama for the Call of Duty generation, the opening episode of Strike Back’s second series is silly, immature, shocking, but undoubtedly entertaining and certainly not boring. Though not a masterclass in the art of storytelling; as a slice of mindless, action-packed slush, Project Dawn seems like a decent enough way to spend a Sunday evening.
Airs at 9pm on Sunday 21st August 2011 on Sky1.