Living up to the “Skinemax” sobriquet, Cinemax’s inaugural primetime drama could also be called “Bullets, Boobies, Butts and Bad Guys.”
Inspired by an action-based fiction novel by former Special Air Service Sergeant Chris Ryan, Strike Back centers on a post-9/11 military black ops unit called Section 20 that “officially” doesn’t exist. Damien Scott (Aussie Sullivan Stapleton) is the stereotypical yank; a rogue philanderer and ex-Delta Force soldier. Scott’s eternal “pussy prowl” ruffles his stoic British counterpart, the square-jawed Sgt. Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester, Crusoe) who has the demeanor of a starched shirt.
“Where the f--- you’ve been?” asks Scott, rendezvousing with his partner in a New Delhi hotel under hostile siege.
“You know, savin’ lives, shootin’ bad guys,” grunts Stonebridge. While the original novel doesn’t fare too bad per Amazon.com reviews, its televised version abounds with clichés.
Inside the pre-fab Section 20 command center, a pixie-haired colonel resembling a youthful Judy Dench eternally hovers over a glass veneer. She furrows her brow at flashing screens. Technical doodads blink in the background. Throw in Pierce Brosnan and you’d have Die Another Day.
Some of the violence is visceral and hits emotionally close to the realities of terrorism, as co-writers (including X-File’s Frank Spotnitz) attempt political timeliness. But any revelations about foreign warfare remain half-formed.
Not to say that watching a mismatched duo of Herculean covert operatives hunt down a Pakistani terrorist isn’t entertaining. Strike Back shows a little Die Hard swagger and even evokes the heyday of 24, when I’d hustle to close Whitworth University’s coffee shop in time to religiously watch the newest episode.
But the elongated takes of fleshy coitus in this high-octane spy romp are superfluous. Spontaneous sex is a requisite if you’re 007, but here, nudity for nudity’s sake seems so … obvious.
Strike Back essentially boils down to a Starsky & Hutch paradigm, in which character geo-profiling trumps originality.
If you prefer cerebral voyages through the somber psyche of a lone secret agent, rent The American or The Bourne Identity.
If you prefer an adrenaline-pumped espionage thriller to fill that 24 void in your life, on the other hand? Mission accomplished.
(Fridays, 10 p.m., Cinemax)
Top Gear (The UK version)
A trio of wily motorheads, vehicles of every make and model, absurd stunts and unabashed British snark make this one of the best shows on TV. Best of all, car knowledge isn’t required, as Top Gear’s humor is universally accessible. A brand-new season, with hatchback throwdowns, a Mr. Bean cameo, and a “Range Rover Evoque vs. Death Valley” gauntlet just kicked off. Visit bbcamerica.com for a magical video montage titled “17 reasons to watch Season 17.” (Mondays, 9 pm, BBCA)
A gigantoraptor resembling a “17-foot turkey,” frogs so big they could eat dinosaurs and the underwater birthing of a mosasaurus? Say no more. Discovery had me at “Jurassic flying squirrel.” I don’t care if you’re 5 or 75. Dinosaurs will always be rad. (Sundays, 9 pm, Discovery)
Chopped: Champions’ Tournament
This is the only show my roommate watches, and I got hooked as an innocent bystander. Professional chefs are presented with uncommonly paired mystery ingredients (i.e., “cacti, orange jelly candies, tuna head”), then they prepare something awesome … or terrifying. It’s surprisingly addicting. (Tuesdays, 10 pm, The Food Network)