Thursday, May 27, 2010

Underrated TV on DVD #11: The Sandbaggers

Un-Super-Spy Week concludes!
Series: The Sandbaggers
Years: 1978-1980, 18 hour-long episodes
Creators: Ian Mackintosh
Stars: Roy Marsden, Ray Lonen, Jerome Willis, Elizabeth Bennett

The Concept: A cold-blooded but effective spy-turned-bureaucrat is responsible for sending black ops operatives out into the field, but he spends as much time dealing with political headaches as he does enemy countries.

How it Came to be Underrated: This was never on video or DVD until very recently, when it finally received some belated acclaim.

Sample Episode: 1.1, First Principles
Writer: Ian Mackintosh
The Story: When their own spies get stranded inside Russia, the Norweigans force both the British and the Americans to launch competing rescue attempts in order to compete for a commercial contract. Marsden turns venomous when he realizes that he’s being jerked around, especially when things go wrong behind the iron curtain.

Why It’s Great:

  1. This show has a great backstory: As the legend goes, Mackintosh was able to pack the show full of real dirt because he had been a real spy, and everybody wondered why MI-5 let him get away with it. Then, after three seasons, Mackintosh's small plane disappeared under murky circumstances! He wrote every episode, so they had no choice but to cancel the show. It certainly makes for a juicy story, whether or not its implications are true!
  2. I’m one of those who always suspect that the real political world is stranger and nastier than we can possibly imagine. “24”, even with all its absurdities, seemed to me like a more accurate representation of life at the White House than the idealistic depiction on “The West Wing”. This one is a much more grounded show than “24”, and it’s got an even more jaundiced view. This is one of the few shows to seriously explore how down and dirty politics can get, and it’s a lot of fun to watch in a bare-knuckle sort of way.
  3. Roy Marsden is so good here that you wonder why he never became a movie star. Of course, it shoudn’t be that surprising, because his performance most reminds me of another great three-piece-suit-wearing order-barking TV boss, Daniel J. Travanti on “Hill Street Blues”, and he never got movie roles either. I guess they both knew that they’d found their calling behind those desks.
  4. Every episode, you get so wrapped up in the personal and political agendas, that you don’t notice how suspenseful the actual spy story has become until the end—which is entirely the point. A lot of missions go wrong, and the body count is high, another all-too-realistic fact of the spy world that it’s shocking to see portrayed on TV.

How Available Is It?: The first DVD set had terrible video quality, but it was soon re-released looking pretty nice, for a show shot partially on video.


But Don’t Take My Word For It:

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