Seeking to replicate the mindless thrills of Cinemax’s “Strike Back” with a bit more nuance and texture, “Hunted” adds to TV’s rich trove of female spies — think “Alias,” with side-boob and more violence. Melissa George stars as the employee of a shadowy private-espionage group who gets to say things like “I’m your best operative” and snap the necks of burly men, after barely surviving a dense 15-minute prologue. All told, this international production represents the kind of empty-calorie popcorn fare that demonstrates not every drama with a British pedigree is “Masterpiece” material.
Created by “The X-Files” alum Frank Spotnitz (who also worked on “Strike Back”), there’s certainly a “trust no one” vibe in being Sam Hunter (George), who — after a deadly opening encounter leaves her wondering who wanted her dead — eventually returns to reclaim her place as part of a crack international team, Byzantium, where she specializes in operating undercover.
In this case, the mission involves becoming the nanny to a household involved in nefarious doings, with the constant threat of being exposed, billions at stake and concerns about a mole within her organization.
If it all sounds familiar, it should. This is really just a protracted, more explicit (virtually a prerequisite, given the venue) “Mission: Impossible,” spreading its caper across multiple episodes.
Yet even with bursts of bloodshed, “Hunted” bogs down in the episodes previewed, which include extended stretches of cloak-and-dagger stuff set within the mansion where Sam’s working, which start to become a tad claustrophobic.
The producers have assembled an impressive cast, including “Lost’s” Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Patrick Malahide, Indira Varma and Stephen Dillane (“John Adams”), who plays Sam’s prickly and mysterious boss. For all that, the material hardly tests them, and the show feels like a very conventional variant on its genre, while George spends too much time burdened with a pained expression — and that’s during moments when she isn’t battling for her life.
With terrorism as its backdrop, “Strike Back” (already picked up through a third season) benefits from being more visceral. Yet this companion ought to have a fighting chance, too, thanks principally to the business model for these internationally financed affairs, which — mirroring what Starz has sought to accomplish with its escapist original-programming strategy — is frankly more interesting at times than the shows themselves.
In terms of the hunt for hits, that makes “Hunted” the TV equivalent of surviving by scavenging small prey.