Review: The State Within

In the UK: Thursdays, BBC1, 9pm
In the US: BBC America. Premieres in 2007

Here’s new: a co-prod (I want to say cod-prod, but won’t) between BBC America and BBC1. Whatever next? BBC Scotland and BBC Factual? BBC Knowledge and BBC Sport?

Anyway, here’s a show I had high hopes for. Good cast: Jason Isaacs (Brotherhood), Lennie James (Jericho), Sharon Gless (Cagney and Lacey). An interesting premise: a terrorist attack and the UK and US governments’ response to it plus a great big conspiracy underneath the surface.

But tarnation. It was mostly pants.

I’ll confess the second half was better than the first half. I started off groaning inwardly as every single possible cliché was trotted out, both in the script and the direction. Jerky handheld camerawork designed to make everything feel realistic? No thank you. Briefcases being switched at diners? Puh-lease. Our hero, the British ambassador to America (Isaacs) happens to be right near the terrorist incident and so naturally tries to pull a trapped woman from her car. But wait! It’s going to explode (as apparently all US cars and mini-vans will, not just the Pintos) so someone has to drag him away. Except, of course, he’s not so squeaky clean and he’s going to be blackmailed very soon, probably by the Tmmmimmystanis or whatever made-up Asian country they used. Dear oh dear.

Meanwhile, everyone was trying ever so hard to make it look authentic, but only to people who had never seen the news or watched another TV programme (cf Buckley’s ‘All TV producers live in Islington’ hypothesis). Isaacs hosts a post-disaster meeting where he gives out bleeding obvious orders like setting up a condolences book. “Let’s set up a freephone number for information,” he suggests. Really? That’s innovative, outside-the-box thinking there, my friend. Why hadn’t anybody already devised such a procedure before, I wonder.

You’d have thought he’d have gone slightly native and called it “toll free” at least. But then none of the Americans talked like Americans either. Yes, there was the occasional mention of the Beltway, but is there a single DC insider who would say “They’ll be buried in Arlington cemetery” rather than just “in Arlington”? News shows didn’t look like US news shows, newspapers didn’t really look like US papers. Even the aeroplanes failed to correspond with aeroplanes in the real world, with Air Marshalls of all people telling passengers mid take-off that they need to turn off their laptops. Have they never been on a plane? Do they think we’ve never been on a plane? And these were just the least of the show’s sins against reality that I can give you in a spoiler-free review.

However, things started to settle down a bit after the show stopped trying to be 24 or any other US drama and made a stab at being British again, with only the occasionally embarrassing attempt to inject some action letting the side down. Since this is the first part of a thriller, a whole load of plot threads were dumped in our laps like so much spaghetti from a clumsy waiter. Hopefully, we’ll be able to sort them out by the end of the series. They were at least interesting, although I suspect the pay-off is going to be weak.

We also had variable performances from the cast. Isaacs was fine, although he seems out of practice at using something close to his own accent. Neil Pearson (Between the Lines, Drop the Dead Donkey) appeared to have been taking wooden pills, something I’ve never seen him do before. James was good as were most of the supporting cast. But Sharon Gless appears to have decided to base her Secretary of Defense on Dick Cheney crossed with Pat Robertson, both of them having had their drinks spiked with some kind of amphetamine.

It’s overblown, lacking in subtlety, with no aspirations to be anything except a programme that can be sold to overseas networks and look good on a press release. Ho hum.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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