Doug Coutts’ TV Preview: The Game

TV Preview: The Game | SoHo, 8.30 Sunday


By Doug Coutts

The trouble with spy thrillers is the predictability – no one is ever satisfied with being a single secret agent; they all have to be doubles, triples or even reverse 900s with a half pike and twist.

And then there’s the Moebius Strip kind of agent, in this case Joe Lambe, the hero of SoHo’s new series The Game. Joe, who looks about 17 and is played by Tom Hughes (famous for appearing in a Burberry ad alongside Emma Watson and some acting stuff), has just returned from Poland after a defection gone wrong – or did it go right?

Perhaps it was supposed to go wrong, but then something went not quite wrong and it actually turned out right, which might be seen to be wrong in some quarters.

That’s what spy thrillers do – they mess with your head, but in a much better way than anything with the Kardashians does. One requires hard thinking and a tonne of concentration, while the other just needs a bucket and an industrial vacuum to get the shards of glass out of the carpet after you’ve thrown the remote at the screen.

But back to The Game. It’s the early ’70s and the Cold War could be heating up. Or it might not, but either way those pesky Soviets are up to something.

MI5’s taking matters seriously, so seriously in fact that after the first grisly death of a just reawakened sleeper they’re starting to look for a mole among top management. No one is above suspicion although they all seem to be beyond reproach.

Joe’s nemesis, who behaved so badly in the Polish incident, turns up in London and during a stake-out that goes wrong – or does it – tells Joe, just before he vanishes in the ruins of an old amusement park (yes, I know…), that everything will be made clear soon.

Like that’s going to happen. This is a spy thriller after all – there are still many twists, turns, dead ends and red (sorry, Mr Brezhnev) herrings to come. And it looks like it’s going to be a goody – even the baddies look great as all that moody lighting comes up trumps on HD.

As for the mole, my money’s on the meek churchmousy secretary. Those quiet types are always up to something. Or are they?

What other critics said:

“There may well be a mystery at the heart of The Game which makes it worth viewers playing along. But this is a spy thriller that’s going to have to really lift its tradecraft to keep me watching.” — NZ Herald.

“The first episode was wonderfully atmospheric and beautifully realised: it truly felt like we were back in London of 40 years ago. The production already has something of the look and feel of the classic 1973-set Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. There is little higher praise.” — The Telegraph.

The Game plunges into the past to wallow in every glorious spy cliche you can imagine. This six-part thriller, starring Brian Cox as an ageing MI5 boss and Paul Ritter as his effete sneak-in-chief, is a comic book version of Le Carre.” — Daily Mail.

The Game is a drama of barely suppressed hysteria – unfortunately in this case hysterical laughter. I bet the magnificently overqualified cast hardly contained themselves between scenes.” — The Times.

“Take the loving retro-detail and cool jazz track of ’50s-based drama The Hour, fling in a new cast, shift it to the ’70s, replace the broadcast journalism with espionage and you’ve got The Game. It’s a bit like furniture from a certain large Scandinavian retailer: flat-pack but still looks pretty good. I’m game.” — Daily Express.

Doug Coutts has had a career in and around television for close to 40 years. He spent 13 years as a floor manager at Avalon Studios before going freelance and never earning as much again. His writing has spanned TV genres — from Shortland Street dialoguery and quiz shows to documentaries and comedy — while a lengthy stint as TV reviewer in the Auckland Star earned him two mentions in Metro magazine’s Hot List and an angry letter from Jon Gadsby. You can read more of Doug (the satirist) at: Weakly Whirled News.
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