I’m a big fan of the spy genre. I grew up on James Bond movies, both the good Sean Connery ones on cable, then VHS) and the increasingly-campy ones with Roger Moore. I also read voraciously the pulp spy novels about master spy Nick Carter (the 1970s and 80s ones, though the series goes a back almost a century in one form or another).
In the early 00s, I caught onto the Alias bandwagon a little late, but I find it a little uneven and cinematic for me. But, I’ve found two series — one older and one currently in production — that more than make up the difference for me.
The current series is MI-5(in the U.S.; it’s called Spooks — a much better name — in the U.K., where it is produced). It’s a great series about MI-5 agents and how service to their country interacts with their personal lives. The US version is cut down from an hour to 47 minutes to allow for US commercial interruptions, so it moves very quickly and often cuts scenes that leave you wondering. Wait for it on DVD, and you’ll see the series as it was intended. It’s good “spy vs. guy” stuff with some good action thrown in. Lots of dirty politics, too, which I like, and which brings me to:
The Sandbaggers, which may be one of the best shows every produced for TV. It’s also British, but from the late 70s and early 80s. It stars Roy Marsden (perhaps better known to PBS Mystery! fans in the US as Inspector Adam Dalgliesh from the PD James novels) as a spymaster working for an analog to MI-6 (sorta like our CIA). It’s gripping drama, mostly about the political machinations behind the spy game. Technically, it’s weird, harsh arc-lighting and crappy sets, but give it a couple of episodes of the superb writing and acting, and you’ll forget the 70s Mexican soap opera look and feel. The Sandbaggers was also the inspiration for one of my favorite comic series, …
Queen & Country, about a group of British spies called The Minders and written by Greg Rucka. While Q&C gives about equal weight to the spymaster and the minders (perhaps weighted to the Minders side), it’s definitely an homage to The Sandbaggers, even recycling some of the plots, though with a post-9/11 twist to them. There are a number of collections of Queen & Country and two novels, both of which are good, but obviously much more verbose than the comics. If you like gritty spy stories, both Queen & Country and The Sandbaggers should be right up your alley. Check them out.