Review: Hunted 1×1 (BBC1/Cinemax)

The spy who mildly entertained me

Hunted with Melissa George

In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, BBC1. Available on the iPlayer
In the US: Fridays, 10pm, Cinemax. Starts October 19

Action heroines are few and far enough between, particularly on TV, that when a writer creates a female-centric action drama, such as Hunted, he or she has to decide to do one of two things: to be gender-neutral and ignore the fact it’s a woman doing the fighting or to be gender aware and tailor the writing accordingly.

Both ways can work – look at either Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Haywire – but both involve peril. You can be gender neutral like Burn Notice, but then you end up with Gabrielle Anwar, who hasn’t eaten food since 2005, regularly beating 200lb ex-special forces guys in hand-to-hand fights.

Nope, not happening.

Or you can be gender-aware like Missing, tailor your action scenes to the fact your lead is a tad smaller and weaker than the steroided-up 6’5″ male characters, but have have pretty much every single plot item happen because the lead is a woman, and in Missing‘s case, a mother.

Hunted, which features Home and Away star Melissa George as a former army intelligence officer who joins private sector company Byzantium Security – this decade’s Saracen Systems – to carry on spying but for the highest bidder, goes for the secret third approach: the hybrid option, in which pretty much everything happens because George is a woman, but the action scenes remain gender-blind, even though George is built like a Littlewoods catalogue model.

Hunted‘s implementation is probably the least satisfying of all the options (Haywire – more on that later – is secret option four: how to do it properly), results in George mooning about lovers, moving in with the bad guys to look after their kids and getting pregnant by a colleague. Yet somehow, despite the hand of Frank Spotnitz being behind the plotting and dialogue, both of which have the power to make your brain rot in the manly mirror universe of Sky/Cinemax’s Strike Back, Hunted is actually surprisingly okay: nothing extraordinary, nothing too smart and in many ways quite stupid, but with enough flair and action that it’s a passable enough way to spend your time.

Here’s a trailer:

Drama series. After being betrayed and nearly killed in Tangier, private security operative Sam Hunter returns to London to discover which of her colleagues set her up.

Is it any good?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the show is made by Kudos, Hunted suffers from ‘Spooks syndrome’. That is, it thinks it’s smarter than it is, it tries to project quality television at every point, but ultimately, it’s bobbins and if it tried to embrace its bobbins-like nature rather than refute it, it would probably be a more fun, more enjoyable show – cf Strike Back.

The primary problem with Hunted is that a lot of it is boring, tedious sub-soap opera, poorly acted emoting, set in exotic locations designed to make you think the show is the spy equivalent of a Merchant Ivory production, when clearly it’s not.

The secondary problem is Melissa George and her character. George isn’t a bad actress, since there are moments in Hunted when she comes alive. But she suffers from ‘Michelle Ryan syndrome‘: she spends so much of her time trying to do an alien accent (cut glass but still dodgy English rather then American in Ryan’s case) that not enough of her concentration goes into giving her character a personality or perceptible human emotions. Why they couldn’t just let her be an Aussie, I don’t know (again cf Saracen and the pilot episode The Zero Option).

The result is that Sam Hunter – no, really, that’s her name. Hunter has become Hunted, FFS – is pretty much a blank female cipher, a generic action heroine with no real traits beyond an ability to sleep with the bad guys and then betray them. Even Piper Perabo had more to do and more going for her in the first 10 minutes of Covert Affairs.

The script doesn’t really give her much by way of background, either. Instead, we get flashbacks to some tragic incident in her childhood – presumably, she couldn’t just want to be a spy, being a woman (despite the fact in real life 60% of spies are women), but had to have a trauma to spur her on. This gives her motivation, but don’t yet give character.

Hunter wants vengeance because she was betrayed by someone in her team. Was it her lover, who was also going to be the father of her child, until she got shot? Was it Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje from Lost, here deploying his Oz US accent? Maybe, but he’s not got much personality either. Was it her boss Stephen Dillane, doing his best quirky Colin Firth impression? He does have a personality, but not the motivation.

Whoever it was, was taking a job with the bunch of them a year after one of them had her shot a splendid idea? No. Even Nikita had a better vengeance plan. So Sam Hunter – idiot is all we have in terms of personality.

Anyway, come back she does, after spending a year in the bath and running like a girl up Scottish hillsides (that’s you, that is), and she’s sent on a mission to bang to rights – in something of a 25-year-on The One Game reunion for Dillane – East End crim Patrick Malahide, here deploying his Minder East End accent and it hasn’t got any more convincing over the years. This time faking a much more passable US accent and an actual personality, George inures herself with his son and grandson and ends up moving into his house to be the kid’s tutor. Because she’s a girl. Bodie and Doyle never did that.

It’s as daft as a brush proposition as you could hope to achieve – well, not as daft as the idea of George’s home improvements so she can have a secret office that’s so secret, it has a sash window, or that there’s any remotely interesting office buildings near Canada Water – but somehow, it just about works.

Along the way, we have a few action scenes that are more in keeping with the half-baked, inept British efforts we’ve come to expect on BBC1 from Kudos thanks to Spooks, rather than the really rather excellent Strike Back affairs Sky viewers get to watch:

The Hunted action scenes have George doing all kinds of implausible things and with obliging baddies who step in close enough for a double-tap that someone on the floor can disarm them. Duh. But at least the scenes are filmed in all kinds of exotic places, like Morocco and Spain, and have people speaking foreign languages, always a sure sign of classiness, even if it’s an attempt to distract us from those poorly choreographed fight scenes.

Littered with spy dialogue and over-writing that again is the mirror image of Strike Back‘s abrasive, crass dialogue, Hunted tries to be smarter yet succeeds in just being cliched and dull. Shot like it’s an arthouse movie, everything in perpetual hues of grey, with shiny computers and iPads everywhere, it tries to tell us it’s smart, not through plot but by mise en scène. If it could embrace the fact it’s a B-movie plot at best and aim at embracing action rather than trying to achieve some kind of artistic qualities, it might be a far more entertaining proposition.

Yet somehow, it all sorts of work, provided you switch your brain off and remember that this isn’t John Le Carré or even Ian Fleming, but Stella Rimmington on a bad day, shortly after accidentally taking some Speed. It just about hangs together, it’s just about dramatic enough that you don’t fall asleep and the action scenes are at least a step up from the laugh of the week that were The Shadow Line‘s best efforts. It might entertain you, and it’s passable enough, but it’s as bobbins as Spooks was by series 56,121.

Shame really, because people might just assume from both this and Missing that women can’t do action shows. Whereas, a bad action show is just that, irrespective of the lead’s gender. I’m sure if they’d have just got Gina Carano to do it with an American accent, they’d have been as sound as a pound:


  • 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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