Surrounded by… no, don’t say it

For a few years I’ve been idly hawking a series I really wanted somebody else to make. Not me – it was hardly within my realm of experience – but I was dead keen to see the show. It was, in summary, “Be James Bond for a weekend.” Or, if you like, Splinter Cell played as a live-action TV game show. It’s a crazy idea, but it might just have worked.

Unfortunately, it was never properly pitched, and I suspect the idea’s effectively dead thanks to the BBC’s deceptively not-similar-at-all series Spy. This showed up earlier in the year on digital channel BBC Three, which my TV can receive but my aerial can’t, so I didn’t see it until last night’s terrestrial debut on BBC2 – it’s being stripped all week in the odd (graveyard?) slot of 6:45pm.

Oh. My. Heavens. It’s not often I lose patience with a show, but with this I lasted all of seven minutes. How is it possible that the entire production should take itself so utterly seriously? I watched, mouth agape, as the candidates explained earnestly why they wanted to be spies – only, of course, they weren’t going to become spies, they were being filmed for a TV show. Sure, the exercise was made as realistic as possible, and I’m sure the producers were delighted when one of their ex-spy trainers insisted on appearing in a bad wig to conceal her true identity, but at that point they should have been hearing alarms bells blaring right next to their heads.

Espionage, you see, is a deadly serious business. Punters playing at being spies, on the other hand, is on the faintly camp end of patently ridiculous. So far as I can tell, however, the producers managed to deceive themselves into believing they were making a deadly serious documentary about the life of the field agent. But if that had been the case they should surely have centred on the genuine spies and used the punters as, more-or-less, actors in a reconstruction. That could have been interesting and genuinely illuminating. But focussing on the punters while being utterly po-faced makes it neither documentary nor game show. Terrible.

I’ll likely steel myself later in the week for another attempt to view the ill-conceived monster, in case I’m wrong, but for the moment all I can taste are the ashes of a series that could have been genuinely fun.

Now: does anyone have a clue how to turn the buggy and generally flawed but nevertheless magnificent game Evil Genius into a TV show? I mean, who wouldn’t want to be in a series where your ultimate goal is sixties-style world domination with giant lasers and earthquake machines and secret underground lairs?

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