Spooks series 8 : In the Press
Reviews of the eighth series of Spooks in the press were generally positive, although less enthusiastic than last year, which was felt to have been a particularly good series.
The previews of the first episode of the series were enthusiastic, with many papers choosing it as their Pick of the Day or even Pick of the Week.
The Independent (31st October 2009) described the episode as "A typically high-octane opener to the new series of the spy drama, as Harry's kidnappers state their price for the MI5 chieftain. It's all to do with enriched uranium and Peter Firth looks worried." The Daily Telegraph (31st October) said that "the team are back with a vengeance. [...] The episode starts off looking like an advert for Audi cars, but stick with it - it reaches an exhausting (and believable) climax."
"It's always fun to have a new series of Spooks," said The Times (31st October), "even when it doesn't deliver as much as it promises. Unashamedly wham-bam entertainment, it is filled with chases and explosions and technical wizardry performed with the hatchet-faced seriousness of actors who are called upon to save the world. [...] Most of the episodes involve a race against time, but this one includes a whole series of races-against-time, all running simultaneously. Spooks has never been afraid of overkill."
The Daily Mail (31st October) said, "The return of 'Spooks' livens up BBC1's schedules. [...] The new series gets off to a scorching start with an episode that seldom pauses for breath but screws up the tension and suspense to an almost unbearable pitch. Expect shocks - and a face from the past." The Daily Star called Spooks "the best spy show on TV." And The Sun described the new series as "gripping".
The Observer (1st November) called it "superlative" and added, "Superbly plotted and scripted, it feels good to be back in the shadowy realms of this intelligence thriller." The Independent on Sunday(1st November) called it "sleek", and declared that "it's in remarkably fine fettle for a show that has run for the best part of a decade."
And the Sunday Times (1st November) said, "The eighth series of Spooks might not kick off with any great surprises but its tried-and-tested methods still manage to generate the kind of tension that sends you running from the room during the really unbearable moments."
The Daily Telegraph's (5th November) review of the opening episode of the eighth series was complimentary. Gerard O'Donovan said, "For all its square-jawed silliness and bonkers conspiracies, Spooks still delivers high-class escapism at its slickest, most glamorous and entertaining."
In The Scotsman (5th November), Andrea Mullaney wrote, "Spooks' formula is set: a contrived plot, a convoluted first half, yet somehow by the end you're carried away by the tension. It's partly due to the generally good performances."
Kathryn Flett in The Observer (8th November) said that "the first episode in a Spooks series is invariably a corker but this one was especially good: heaving with the usual über-baddies, moral ambiguities and mini mid-episode cliff-hangers."
In The Independent on Sunday (8th November) Tim Walker described it as "scarily prescient escapist fun." But AA Gill, writing in the Sunday Times (8th November) wasn't impressed. "Spooks has run out of energy, it’s got too much story and not enough purpose. What’s left is the endless repetitive double-crossing, and in terms of suspense that looks very much like plot crochet," he said.
The Daily Mirror's (9th November) Jim Shelley described Spooks as "the BBC's answer to 24: glossy, glamorous, totally incomprehensible. It's less a spy series than one long car ad."
And Marion McMullen in the Coventry Telegraph (9th November) wrote, "BBC 1's adrenaline-rushing, heart-pumping spy drama is certainly edge of your seat television. Best friends can turn into enemies and a wrong word can end with a bullet in the brain. It's bloody and brutal and quality drama from start to finish. Forget the slick smoothness of James Bond, this is the grimy end of the spy business."
There was further comment as the series continued.
In the Sunday Mercury (22nd November), Roz Laws said, "The standard is always high on Spooks but this series has been particularly good." Previewing episode 7 in the Daily Mail (11th December), Robin Wiggs referred to "the thunderingly good new series of this excellent British spy drama". In The Independent (10th December), Alice Jones said simply, "Spooks has still got it."
But some reviewers suggested that this series has not been as successful as previous ones. Mark Wright in The Stage (1st December) wrote at length about what he felt was wrong.
"I’ve had an uncomfortable feeling about this new series. It started off well, the opening couple of episodes being fairly tight and tense. [...] And then it all went a bit wrong. Episode 3 started it off - it was fairly mundane, slack stuff by Spooks standards. And no amount of bad writing can be covered by the death of yet another Spooks regular, especially so soon after the shock death of Ben at the hands of Connie last series. [...] To be fair, Spooks has always sailed very close to the wind when it comes to believability, but zesty writing, tight direction and good performances have always kept it restrained just enough." He wondered whether Spooks had become "a touch too worthy for its own good, believing it’s perhaps a bit better than the reliable piece of espionage fluff it always has been in the past?"
He criticised the casting of the two main CIA roles, Genevieve O’Reilly (Sarah Caulfield) and Brian Protheroe (Samuel Walker), but concluded, "There are saving graces - they still have fantastic leads in Hermione Norris and Richard Armitage, not to mention the wonderful Peter Firth as Harry. Their trademark slick direction remains, and the end of episode four was a genuine shock. So a little of the old Spooks verve is still there. Let’s just hope it isn’t gone for good."
Other reviewers acknowledged that on one level, the show's stories can be absurd, but Lucy Mangan in The Guardian (12th November) said, "The blue-washed hokum that is Spooks is still – after eight series – going strong."
In the Evening Standard (13th November) David Sexton also called it hokum, but said it was "a marvellous creation". He continued, "Every week, wonderfully good-looking, modest and brave MI5 operatives save the nation from destruction at the hands of shockingly evil people, mostly foreigners. They are filmed in the most glamourous lighting that can be contrived, generally from a lowly viewpoint so that they loom heroically even when they're not doing anything in particular. They deliver rather formal lines that nobody would ever pull off in real life."
Alison Graham of the Radio Times is a long-standing Spooks fan, and was still impressed with this latest series. Of episode 4, she wrote, "After all this time, Spooks still has the power to wrong foot its audience, playing with expectations and shuffling the goalposts." Like other reviewers, she admitted that the stories are often unreal, but praised the way they are told. "[Episode 3] is a typically good, tight story that on the face of it sounds completely ridiculous, yet has just the right shade of plausibility." She said, "It's still one of the best things on television."
Other comment can be found in the previews of each episode by Ian Wylie of the Manchester Evening News (on his blog), and on The Guardian's TV & Radio Blog, where Vicki Frost took an irreverent look at each week's episode.
Finally, the Evening Standard (7th December) was concerned about the technology in use in Section D. "It's not the death toll that compromises its realism. It's that hunky, heavily tattooed, easily betrayed, unlikely-to-make-it-to-the-end-of-the-series-hero Lucas North uses an iPhone. If the future of the free world rested on the reliability of your communications, would you really lock yourself into a mobile phone contract with O2?"
The series was shown in Australia on the ABC in October 2010.
In the Herald Sun (27th October 2010), TV previewer Dianne Butler called Richard Armitage "the sensible one" on the Grid. After recommending her readers see North and South if they have the chance, she explained, "Brooding would be the word I'd use to describe his performance. He does a bit of brooding in Spooks, but not nearly enough for my liking. Mainly he busts out the black-haired, blue-eyed charm stick to get information out of somebody, and that also works. He clearly has some range, because he wasn't anything like this in Robin Hood, where he wore more eye-liner than KISS."
Previewing episode 4 in The Age's Green Guide (18th November), Tim Elliot called the series intense and cheerless. "The spooks here have nothing but dark pasts and enough post traumatic stress disorder to keep London's psychiatrists busy for decades."
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