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October 10, 2015

MI-5, S3, Ep. 9: "Frequently Asked Questions"

by Mark Rabinowitz, posted Mar 14th 2005 2:26AM
MI-5, Season 3 TeamMI-5 is, bar none, the greatest spy show in the history of television. Think I'm joking? I dare you to go out and rent the first season and tell me it's crap. No. Scrap that. Buy it. Look at the Google Ad Words on this page, click on them and buy the MI-5 discs. If you don't like them, I'll wash your car. I'll windex the top of your kitchen cabinets and clean out your vegetable bins that haven't seen the light of day since the Johnson administration. I'll spay your cat for free. Oh, you silly, silly person! I won't do any of those things for you. But if you think 24 is sharp, well-paced and clever, this will knock your socks off. In fact while watching that admittedly innovative Fox show, I find myself constantly thinking things like "What would Tom Quinn do?" Granted, MI-5 (or Spooks, its original UK title) has the "advantage" of being able to show characters relaxing at home, having personal lives, etc. and I do genuinely like 24. It's just that, well, MI-5 is better. Like, a $15 bottle of Bordeaux can be perfectly good, but a $40 bottle is, well, better.
Peter Firth as Harry PearceHowever, be warned: 24 is the sanitized version and Jack Bauer is to the MI-5 spooks what a hammer to the temple is to bamboo under the fingernails. The former may make a loud bang and give you a short, sharp shock, but latter stays with you forever. To be honest, it's quite difficult to explain exactly why MI-5 is so fantastic. It's something you have to see for yourself. In a nutshell, it focuses on a small group of officers (MI-5 is to MI-6 what the FBI is to the CIA, roughly) who's job it is to defend the United Kingdom from enemies foreign and domestic. These people are mostly young, beautiful (it's still TV, for god's sake) and idealistic, but many of them have a ruthless streak a mile wide and an ability for deception unrivaled. The thing is, no corners are cut for the sake of fans, viewers or Q ratings. Major characters die, quit, commit crimes and cross ethical boundaries with regularity, much like one would expect the real spies do.

Rupert Penry-Jones as Adam CarterI think, and I hate to be the Anglophile here, but the reason MI-5 is better than 24 (and makes Alias look like a fantasy land for coke heads and anorexics....wait...it's not?) is that it's British. Or rather, that it's not American. And no, before you all jump on me for this, I don't think every UK TV or movie is better than every US one. Dream Team, for example, is absolute shite and there are many more, of course. However, by and large, UK dramatic television tends to be more plausible, better written and better acted than our own. Of course, their series are only 6 to 10 episodes long and tend not to last, even when brilliant. Fawlty Towers, for example, only lasted 12 episodes and there are almost 200 episodes of Who's the Boss. See?

One thing I don't understand and maybe one of you TVSquaders can tell me...A&E "allows" some swearing and MI-5 being a BBC show, there is some of that. In this episode (which I have made absolutely NO effort to describe here. Sorry!) a character says "shit" and it's there, but the word is said twice again and the sound drops out each time. Is there a quota? Like one "shit" per episode and one "fuck" per year? We live in a silly country, sometimes.
[A&E Network, BBC Home Video]

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I agree with everything you have said about this marvelous show. I am an Anglophile too, and I thought that was one of the reasons I loved it so much. It's not. It's just a well-written, well-acted show. Can't beat that.

March 15 2005 at 12:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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