My favorite television show at the moment is the BBC spy drama Spooks, which has been aired in the US under the title MI-5. I’m up to season six out of nine right now, with promise of Richard Armitage yet to come. Yum!
(I tend to glom onto a series and watch everything in one go. Does anyone else do that?)
Other than the most recent Mr. Darcy, Matthew MacFadyen, who helped launch the show, I was attracted to it nearly from the outset by a very, very surprising sequence in its debut run. A spy was killed. FLAT OUT. Just like that! Thus from the series’ origins, the creators provided a rather firm warning that no character was safe. How terrifying! And how…interesting. For a happy-ever-after sort of gal, I found a little thrill walking on the wild side, where the conclusion is never foregone.
Think about how many TV dramas offer genuine surprises. Not many. Celebrity culture has made it difficult to avoid talk of actors’ contract negotiations and their plans to leave a long-standing role. So if Matthew Fox, for example, had decided to leave “Lost” before its finale, the public would’ve known about it weeks in advance. No surprises! Now, as long as I avoid the internet, I can be genuinely surprised by characters’ fates on Spooks. I have survived shocking deaths, bittersweet conclusions, and one very touching happy ending.
It’s almost like life.
But look back to my title… In search of consistency.
Season six has started off badly for me. Characters who had been developing significant personal storylines have seen those threads dropped. A stone-cold bitch I was just beginning to admire has suddenly gone touchy-feely. An affair with a nanny has been completely mislaid. A character who started as a wide-eyed journalist is now a seasoned spy equipped with martial arts training and advance computer skills. However, without seeing proof of the work she’s put into becoming that sort of human being, she comes across as a mouthpiece to advance the plot. Frustrating.
Worse than character inconsistencies, the show overall has some of its charm. One of the early strong points dealt with spy politics between MI-5 (Britain’s home security), MI-6 (its security abroad), and various government bodies. Hugh Laurie in his pre-House days would show up to give the head of MI-5 some extremely snarky hassle. Brilliant! But season six has seen MI-5 agents blithely heading off to Iran on missions. Really? What happened to all the subtle, very British turf wars?
If the show doesn’t turn it around soon, I’ll be watching merely to admire Richard Armitage (never, ever a bad thing) and to see who gets killed off next. But it’s certainly not what caught my eye initially.
This got me thinking about why I generally dislike reading series of books. Sustaining plot threads and consistent characters can be incredibly tricky even within the pages of a single novel, let alone across a long-running series. Actual growth is difficult to portray, while running the risk of making characters appear inconsistent for the purposes of the plot–or, more ominously, for the purposes of sustaining sales and ratings!
So let’s dish about series! What favorite written and televised series really work for you? When did they jump the shark? Do you, like me, find character and thematic inconsistencies difficult to overcome, or does their potential for long-term growth grab you?
Because I feel like spreading the word about Spooks–at least the excellent, addicting early seasons–I’m giving away a complete DVD set of Season One! US residents only, please. I’ll draw the winner tomorrow morning. Good luck!