Strip away the counterterrorism lingo and this is really just a mismatched buddy copshow, with a square-jawed Brit (“Crusoe’s” Philip Winchester) thrown together with a skirt-chasing Yank special forces officer (Sullivan Stapleton), who was dishonorably discharged for reasons unknown.
Winchester’s Sgt. Michael Stonebridge belongs to Section 20, a unit devoted to finding “high-risk priority targets” that officially doesn’t exist. With a peer kidnapped by terrorists and a major if unspecified threat looming, Stonebridge seeks out Damien Scott (Stapleton), whom he finds cage fighting in Kuala Lumpur and, conveniently, living over a whorehouse. (The gratuitous nudity quotient drops sharply once the plot fully kicks in, though Scott does manage to take down a couple of terrorists buck naked, a la “Eastern Promises.”)
The project was actually adapted from a book (summer beach reading, no doubt), with “X-Files” alum Frank Spotnitz scripting the first two previewed episodes, and Dan Percival directing.
The plots are timely — including an international hotel attack and hostage standoff — but the espionage comes across as a thinly veiled excuse to go globe-trotting through the slimy back streets where terrorists huddle.
As for Section 20, it’s about as by-rote an operation as shadowy counterterrorism units get — “24” or “Mission: Impossible,” if Jack Bauer (or Mr. Phelps) could find time in the day for the occasional sweaty romp with a hooker.
“Strike Back” does incorporate a few wrinkles regarding its leads, with hints of a larger plot to guide its 10 episodes. Mostly, though, pretty much everyone is reduced to geopolitical stereotypes — starting with the American cowboy and more cautious (if equally sweaty and buff) Brit.
The main problem, given Cinemax’s profile, is logistical: Guys drawn to such fare are often loath to commit to series, as opposed to whatever latenight sex, nudity and violence they happily stumble across. The good news is if “Strike Back” does any business at all, Cinemax can declare victory, and if the show lands with a dull thud, it’ll be easy enough for the channel to make like Section 20 and simply pretend it doesn’t exist.