HBO // 2010 // 600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // July 31st, 2012
Brutal. Ruthless. Deadly. And they're the good guys.
A Cinemax original series that is so R-rated it makes an HBO original series look like a Cinemax original series.
Outside of the boundaries of pesky international law operates Section 20, a black-ops British hit squad tasked with defusing all manner of world-destabilizing shenanigans. Running point are two bad-ass soldiers, an Englishman and an American. British sergeant Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) is a buttoned-up soldier, bound by honor and duty. Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) is the opposite -- loud, obnoxious, and pretty much the horniest dude on the face of the planet. But they're good at what they do, and that is hunting down bad guys and shooting them in their stupid faces.
If you were to develop a medical procedure to tease out the base desires of the male species, distill them into a some sort of compound, analyze the chemical structure, and write a script for a TV series out of what you get from the gas chromatograph, I am confident you would end up with Strike Back.
Cinemax gets into the original series game with this British Sky Network co-production that's riddled with enough blood, profanity, and sexual encounters to keep pace with the network's legendary after-hours programming. But amidst all this id-fueled brawny mayhem is a tremendously entertaining run of ten episodes. The storytelling is not terribly complex (the venues and plotlines are culled from the real world), the show is largely politically ambivalent (the Old White Man Cabal is thankfully under-represented), and the characters are only wading-pool deep. But if you're looking for a quick-moving, rambunctious, red meat extravaganza, there's nothing else on TV that will supply what Strike Back traffics in.
The primary reason for the show's success is its headlining duo. You can tell the original idea was to have Scott and Stonebridge be foils for each other -- the stiff Brit and the brash American -- but that scenario is largely dispensed with early on, as the guys form a legit bromance. They're essentially the same character: lethal, unbeatable soldiers with an abiding sense of justice. The differences are on the perimeter: Stonebridge is a straight-up do-it-for-his-country gunslinger, while Scott was discharged from Delta Force and is looking for those responsible for selling him out. Stonebridge is a married family man, and Scott bones anything with breasts and a pulse. Stonebridge speaks in an accent, Scott does not.
You get the point. These two are more similar than different and I'm cool with that. It makes it easier to sail through the episodes with our heroes on the same page and not engaged in contrived squabbling, especially since the supporting characters are just as basic. As the commander of the unit, Colonel Eleanor Grant (Amanda Mealing), is the typical cold-as-ice executive officer with a flaws showing up only at the end. There's a tech geek who's awkward and goofy like other tech geeks in action spy shows, and another Section 20 officer whose name I've already forgotten.
Whatever. This show is about the juice, and Strike Back brings it. There is one season-long story arc -- the hunt for a Pakistani terrorist who's planning a major attack -- but these ten episodes are parsed into two-parters. Essentially, you're looking at five feature-length movies, each with their own plots and villains (played by recognizable faces if you frequent British TV or Game of Thrones). It's an interesting construct, and serves the show well. Watching these episodes in bunches of twos, I was properly addicted. Executed with precision, the writers ensure they hit the checkboxes of Huge Violent Gunfights, Despicable Evildoers That Get Theirs, and Manly One-Liners Exchanged During Explosions That Will Be Sure to Delight Frat Boys the World Over.
HBO's Blu-ray set represents the correct way to view the series. The 1.78:1/1080p transfer is fantastic, a bright stylish treatment that delivers reference-quality visual fidelity. These guys globe-trot and most of their violence is executed in broad daylight, so prepare for glorious eyeball porno. A robust, active DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track pushes the rampant pyrotechnics and requisite dramatic score perfectly. Extras are disappointingly sparse: cast and crew commentary on five episodes, DVD copies, and Digital copies.
I know this is Cinemax we're talking about, but the amount of nudity and sex was ridiculous. Every episode, save for the season finale, had some degree of gratuitous T&A and I don't use the word "gratuitous" lightly; much of the adult tomfoolery seemed to exist only to boost the edginess of the show. Scott is banging a different woman every show and it quickly becomes apparent there isn't much to it aside from the fact that the writing team wants to squeeze in as many nipples and gyrating pelvises as possible. Only briefly does Scott's porn-star-stylings seem to relate to a personality trait, but by then the dude has already solidified his standing as part-spy, all-skank. Lurid as it may be, the abundance of sex in the show serves more as a distraction than anything else.
It's not brilliant or insightful, but for pulpy borderline-cartoonish hard-R action and spycraft, Strike Back is unrivaled. Just don't watch it with your mom.
Not Guilty. Blam!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (German)
* DTS 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* Official Site