TV Review – Hunted, Homeland, Ian Hislop’s Stiff Upper Lip, Arena: Magical Mystery Tour Revisited

The Infinite Variables of Chaos

It’s an unfortunate week to be a spy series starring a blonde woman written by someone who used to write for The X-Files and not be called Homeland. Hunted (BBC1) is from the same producers as Spooks and shares with its antecedent a love of ludicrous plotlines and absurd characterisation. It starts well, though.

The first twenty minutes of Hunted are great because hardly anyone talks; it’s when they start talking that we have a problem. In Tangier, fiercely pouting Melissa George (once of Home & Away but let’s not judge) is a private sector spy on a mission. She and her team have to rescue a British doctor out of the bloody paws of a bunch of dastardly Arabs. Because it’s all spy stuff, this involves a fake assassination, a fake ambulance and a conveniently abandoned handbag.

Despite all these cunning plans, George still has to kick the ass of three terrorists to make their escape, having forgotten to bring a gun to aid her. I’m like that with pens. One wonders why she didn’t just stride in there and rearrange their asses to begin with, sidestepping the subterfuge. But then Hunted wouldn’t have a plot.

Having made their escape, George meets up with her boyfriend, a fellow spy who specialises in “clean up”, which is why we haven’t seen him until now, as there’s been nothing to clean up. We finally get a snatch of dialogue. “Let’s leave on our own terms, whilst we still can,” he says meaningfully, obviously not referring to Tangier. “There’s something I have to tell you,” she meaningfully replies. “Not now.” She wants to tell him at a rendezvous, when there aren’t vengeful Arabs chasing them.

At a relatively quiet cafe in the middle of nowhere, George is looking at a meaningful ultrasound and waiting for her beaux. Instead, three tooled-up men arrive, looking to put various bullets into her. Having once again failed to bring a gun, she improvises a flamethrower to kill one, nicks his gun to shoot another, then has to kick the ass of the last one as the purloined gun unaccountably only had two bullets in it. It’s all to no avail though, as when the police show up they shoot her.

One Year Later. George isn’t dead and there are no newborn children, but she is somewhere in the wilds of Britain, recovering. She does this by timing how long she can stay underwater, which must be the measure of how well you’re doing after a non-fatal shooting. The mad desire for revenge is, appropriately, hidden in the attic: a wall full of pictures and string joining them up.

Finally, she goes to London and returns to the company she was working for, whose boss is Stannis Baratheon from Game of Thrones. And finally, after 25 minutes, the talking starts. And what talking. I quote Stannis’s entire monologue, which he says on greeting George for the first time in a year. “Every second after I open my eyes each morning, I consider the infinite variables of chaos that can occur during the working day, because I like to be one step ahead. I don’t like to be on the back foot. Don’t like it at all but I’m on the back foot now. Because of all the infinite variables of chaos that I’ve pondered this morning, the one that never crossed my mind was that you’d be standing in front of me.” No, ‘you’re looking well, considering’?

The rest of the episode is equally nonsensical, as George is welcomed back easily to the firm by Stannis. “I put my neck in the block for you,” he assures the watching millions who would dare disbelieve such a move. She attends a briefing around a giant iPad (because of course it is) where her old carefully multi-ethnic team are given the assignment of staking out a former underworld kingpin played by Patrick Malahide, the baddie du jour for this sort of series.

Implausibly, Malahide wants to buy a dam in Pakistan, but he’s only got one month until an election. Oh no! Our team will have to work fast then, but fortunately George can adopt a convincing American accent and pretend to be a passer-by saving Malahide’s grandson from a kidnapping. “We’re very grateful,” says an evil Malahide, in a way that suggests he isn’t.

Meanwhile, George’s (presumably ex-) boyfriend follows her home. He’s so good he gets there before her, which is a special trick spies have of having a scriptwriter cheat for them. She’s naturally suspicious of him – not just for the way he twists time and space – as he was the only person who knew she would be at the cafe. He rightly suggests there are easier ways to break-up with her. “It’s not me it’s you,” like normal people. But as we’ve already established, these are not normal people. This is proved when she shows him her wound and it’s in on the wrong side of her body.

But there is a suspicious dude (helpfully called Blank Faced Man in the credits) on their collective tails, and he’s just killed a Dutch scientist who’s an “expert in water contamination” by injecting him in the eye. Lovely. It all means something but I don’t think I can be bothered to tune in next week for the answers.

It doesn’t help Hunted’s cause that it has to be compared to Homeland (Channel 4), which returned this week. Homeland does everything right that Hunted gets wrong, despite being equally preposterous. After a critically lauded first season that only partly felt like it was being made up as it went along, Carrie and the boys returned for a second series of sleeper agents and bipolar wackiness.

Just as an all-too-believable Israeli attack on Iran is dominating the news, Carrie (the excellently twitchy Claire Danes) has had her ECT treatment and is now living a quiet life of teaching and living in her almost-as-crazy father’s house. Then the dreaded call to return to the CIA arrives from her boss via the dependable Saul (“Tell him to fuck off.”). Saul has been approached by a potential agent in Beirut, but it turns out she’s Carrie’s actual agent, kept off the books “because I was interested in keeping her alive.” Now, she’ll only talk to Carrie.

So Carrie dyes her hair black, gets a suitably dour new name in Morrissey (“double R double S”) and heads off to Beirut. She meets up with her agent, who turns out to be the wife of a Hezbollah leader who’s heard word of an attack on America. But their meeting is discovered and Carrie is forced to flee through crowded streets, in a scene reminiscent of the similar one in Hunted. Rather than have a carefully choreographed fight, Carrie knees her pursuer in the balls and runs away, grinning insanely. She is definitely back.

Stuff happens with our other protagonist, Damian Lewis’s now Congressman Brody – including him coming out as a Muslim to his shocked family – but it’s never as interesting as what’s going on in Carrie World. Brody is also still secretly working for jihadist mastermind Abu Nazir, but at least he’s getting his instructions via intermediaries rather than a Bond-esque giant video screen. He’s still needed to break into a CIA safe though, which felt as silly as it was tense.

Homeland is still light years ahead of Hunted. It reflects real-life events in a persuasive way, whereas Hunted lives in a parallel universe where the Bourne films are based on a true story. Judging by the large amount of credibility-snapping dramas the BBC have been making of late, the US are going to continue their dominance of the best TV dramas around at the moment.

The BBC can still point a camera at an interesting person though. Ian Hislop has been quietly making documentaries on his personal obsessions (Church of England, do-gooders, scouts, railways) for a while now, and Ian Hislop’s Stiff Upper Lip (BBC2) details the history of what he clearly thinks is an essential English characteristic, now on the decline. The stiff upper lip, asserts Hislop, is a “badge of national pride,” that only really came into being when the Duke of Wellington became a national nero. Before that, we were a lot looser.

A Dutch scholar in 1499 noted that, in Britain “you cannot move without kisses” and the previous national hero before Wellington, Nelson, was known to not only carry on with married women in foreign locales but asked his second-in-command to kiss him on his deathdeck. Nelson’s funeral was chaos, with 10,000 people all trying to prove they mourned greater than anyone else.

Perhaps this nation has loosened up in recent years as what this description of the funeral most reminds you of is Princess Diana, as I’m sure Hislop is all too aware given the most controversial issue of Private Eye was the one put out after Diana’s death. Hislop clearly misses a time when some off-colour remarks about a recently deceased celebrity would be met more with a ‘harrumph’ and a shaking of the head, rather than the rending of garments.

In Arena: Magical Mystery Tour Revisited (BBC2) a lot more time was spent on the avant garde scene in the sixties than the actual home movie they were supposed to be talking about. Maybe they’ve finally scraped the bottom of the Beatles barrel, at last.


About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at) or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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