To each his or her own, but I can't understand why anyone wouldn't want to watch "Strike Back" (10 p.m. ET Friday, Cinemax). Maybe there are people out there who just hate fun?
In honor of the show's third season, here is a partial list of reasons that you should watch this muscular yet surprisingly intelligent action drama:
- Look at the trailer above. That's one reason.
Look at the trailer above. There's another reason. Beefcake isn't the only draw (though there is nothing inherently wrong with a slice or two of prime beefcake served on a platter of ample explosions). The two special forces soldiers of "Strike Back" may stick closely to the mismatched-buddy parameters: Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) is the irreverent American party boy with a well-hidden capacity for sincerity, and Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) is the responsible, dryly funny Brit haunted by his past. But both characters are engaging and grounded by a welcome dose of sarcasm, and if the guys' palpable camaraderie didn't ring true, "Strike Back" would be a whole lot less fun. The show is well-plotted, tightly paced and crisply edited. Each season of "Strike Back" finds the guys and their colleagues in a roving special-ops team drawn deeper and deeper into some kind of international intrigue, but the show deftly strikes a balance between ongoing story lines and weekly satisfaction, and its global locations are used very well. You don't need to have seen previous seasons to enjoy the show. Trust me on that (though if you start with Season 3, you may well want to mainline previous seasons at your earliest convenience). "Strike Back" allows the guys to experience ambivalence about their jobs, which land them in conflict-riven hot spots, usually trying to salvage situations that have gone sideways. "There are no wins, you know that," one of them says in the early stages of Season 3, and there are intimations that this life has left them ill-equipped for anything close to a normal existence. "Strike Back" sits comfortably within the recent wave of TV dramas that ask questions about what we demand our espionage agents and soldiers do on our behalf. Still, three things are never in doubt: Stonebridge and Scott finish any job they commit to, they always bail out fellow members of their close-knit team, and they always have each other's backs. Enjoy ass-kicking ladies? There are plenty of them in the world of "Strike Back": Rhona Mitra, Michelle Lukes and Milauna Jackson all acquit themselves well in this gun-toting world. Some of the women Stonebridge and Scott encounter are hot-but-deadly Mossad agents and super-sexy aid workers, because of course they are. It's funny and fun. Amid the chases, explosions, intelligence gathering and sexy times, there are wry lines and ironic observations aplenty. "Strike Back" is also shot through with a winning sense of glee: In Season 3, when Scott finds out the boys will have a chance to rob a bank, he's like a kid at Christmas.
In short, when new episodes of "Strike Back" arrive in my house, I inevitably watch them first. It's pretty rare to come across escapist entertainment that's this well-made and this damn fun, but with "Strike Back" and the underrated "Banshee," Cinemax has done a fine job carving out a niche as the home of visceral, well-made action television.
And in case you're wondering, yes, I do have at least one problem with "Strike Back": Each season ends way too soon.
Ryan McGee and I discussed "Strike Back" along with "Low Winter Sun" and "The White Queen," in a recent Talking TV podcast. That podcast is here, on iTunes and below.