Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Review: The Game (Series One)

I spy with my little eye... Here's a look at the BBC's recent dip into the current spy craze, Toby Whithouse's The Game...

Having been a massive fan of his supernatural comedy-drama Being Human, I was eager to see Doctor Who writer Toby Whithouse's next series - a John Le Carre-esque spy thriller set in the Cold War. Well, to enjoy the series you need to leave Being Human behind at the door (though that won't stop me mentioning it throughout this review) as across the six episode (first? only?) series The Game creates its own world in which people in the shadows threaten our daily life...

The Game sees our MI5 heroes investigating the apparently apocalyptic Soviet Operation: Glass - while 5's best spy, Joe Lambe, has his own goal, finding the vicious Odin, the KGB assassin who killed his girlfriend.

Firstly, The Game's biggest success is probably its recreation of a world on the brink of nuclear war, with the UK and the USSR sparring with spies rather than soldiers (the show is effectively shot, fittingly full of greys and browns rather than blacks and whites). Yet this setting would fall flat if it wasn't for the well-developed cast of characters. There's not the believability of BH's flatmates but we get a hefty impression of each of the MI5 team, including the socially-awkward Q-like Alan, played by Sherlock's Anderson, and Brian Cox's 'lion of espionage' codenamed Daddy. While the most enjoyable character is surely middle-aged mummy's boy Bobby Waterhouse, from whom the greatest source of humour comes, our protagonist is Joe Lambe, a moody agent with murky morals whose played by the Cumberbatch-ian Tom Hughes (expect to see more of him in the future). Because of this, the expected 'we've got a mole' storyline is genuinely surprisingly - gold star for anyone who guesses who it is.

If I am honest, however, a personal preference for the wackier side of spy fiction (see: The Prisoner) stopped me from totally loving the series. Also, for me, The Game tried to echo the hush-hush world of real spying so much the show was sometimes short of a certain fizz. In many ways, it is closer to Whithouse's Doctor Who episodes in which he will try on a genre e.g. 'A Town Called Mercy' rather than the assured storytelling of Being Human. Damn, I did it again.

But while this series may lack the sense of fun and depth of character that was the signature of Being Human (I just can't help myself, can I?), it was possibly a tighter run of episodes than many of BH's, boasting a well-developed plot and an interesting character arc for Joe. Here's hoping any wrinkles can be ironed out if the show gets a second series. Then The Game will really be afoot.

The Game's up! - Joe knows there's a mole in MI5. But who is it?

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