×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: BBC America’s ‘The Game’

With:
Tom Hughes, Brian Cox, Paul Ritter, Victoria Hamilton, Jonathan Aris, Shaun Dooley, Chloe Pirrie, Marcel Lures, Jevgenij Sitochin, Zana Marjanovic, Judy Parfitt

The Game” uses a familiar rulebook, which isn’t to say this BBC America period spy drama isn’t worth playing. Low-key to the point of sleepy, the three previewed chapters of the six-episode series pursue a cat-and-mouse battle of wits between British and Russian intelligence in 1972, with the Brits seeking to ferret out details on what they fear is a game-changing plot known only as Operation Glass. Alas, the story is far from transparent, dribbling out clues and dollops of backstory, with Tom Hughes as the haunted young agent at the forefront, and Brian Cox as his secretive boss.

In this setting, Hughes — featured in the Starz miniseries “Dancing on the Edge” — can’t help but evoke comparisons as a younger (and no doubt cheaper) version of Benedict Cumberbatch, using his seductive powers as part of his tradecraft bag of tricks. Yet he’s also plagued by an earlier attempt to pass secrets to the Soviets that cost Hughes his lover and resulted in his temporary incarceration, an event that circles back, not surprisingly, into this arcane scheme.

Hughes’ Joe Lambe is alerted to the threat by a shadowy Soviet mole, Arkady (Marcel Lures), who is vague about the details, except that it involves activating a number of sleeper agents within Britain, with no clear notion of how their actions intersect. In response, Cox’s spymaster — rather quaintly known even to his operatives only as Daddy — assembles a special team to thwart the plot, whatever it might be.

Capturing the Cold War’s perplexing nature, Arkady — whose caution prompts him to spoon out information — references his father’s service at Stalingrad, adding ruefully, “That was a war that made heroes; not this.”

Created by Toby Whithouse (“Being Human”), “The Game” is hardly the James Bond version of British espionage, even with the nicknames and nerdy sidekicks. But the show does capture an era when these agents could genuinely worry about a scenario where the Soviets might engage in a nuclear first strike, which certainly ups the ante beyond current leader Vladimir Putin’s recent border incursions.

There’s also more than a little office politics, with the officious Bobby Waterhouse (Paul Ritter) eager to undermine Daddy’s authority, egged on by Waterhouse’s patrician mother (the wonderful Judy Parfitt).

Not all that much happens, but the episodes nip along just smartly enough to sustain interest as to what this jigsaw puzzle will look like once assembled, the disclaimer being that viewers will have good reason to be ticked off if the payoff doesn’t justify the commitment.

The Brits have always had a knack for brainy spy yarns — see PBS’ latest “Worricker” movies, premiering this week and starring Bill Nighy, as evidence — perhaps in part because they tend to center more on psychology than pyrotechnics. And while “The Game” doesn’t rival the best of them, in terms of meriting attention, it’s at least in the right ballpark.

TV Review: BBC America's 'The Game'

(Series; BBC America, Wed. Nov. 5, 10 p.m.)

Production: Produced by BBC Cymru Wales.

Crew: Executive producers, Hilary Salmon, Toby Whithouse; producer, Radford Neville; director, Niall MacCormick; writer, Whithouse; camera, Ula Pontikos; production designer, Michael Howells; editor, Sam Williams; music, Daniel Pemberton; casting, Rachel Freck. 60 MIN.

Cast: Tom Hughes, Brian Cox, Paul Ritter, Victoria Hamilton, Jonathan Aris, Shaun Dooley, Chloe Pirrie, Marcel Lures, Jevgenij Sitochin, Zana Marjanovic, Judy Parfitt

More TV

  • Stephen Colbert Louis C.K.

    CBS Sees Primetime, Late-Night Advertising Gains From Upfront (EXCLUSIVE)

    Despite an array of new video options, Madison Avenue is still placing big bets on one of its standbys. CBS expects the volume of advance advertising commitments placed against its next primetime schedule to rise 5% to 6%, according to a person familiar with the matter, and advance commitments placed against its late-night programming to [...]

  • Ramy The Other Two Emmy Contenders

    From 'The Other Two' to 'Ramy,' Freshman Comedies Campaign for Emmys

    The stakes are massive for this year’s freshman class of Emmy contenders, especially the new comedies hoping to break into a race dominated for years by “Veep” and other veterans. That’s because a nomination for a show’s first season has major impact on its future awards chances. “With comedies, it’s important to set the bar [...]

  • Pride Allies

    The Hollywood Allies Who Helped Protect, Advance the LGBTQ Community This Year

    Strong and proud as it is, the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality needs allies — from loving and accepting families to galvanized colleagues and corporations to the movie star you’ve never met calling for boycotts of a homophobic nation-state. Several of those queer supporters in Hollywood and music used the megaphones of social media, public [...]

  • Screen writer Beau WillimonMary Queen of

    Beau Willimon Running Unopposed for Re-Election as President of Writers Guild East

    Beau Willimon, the playwright and showrunner who launched Netflix’s “House of Cards,” is running unopposed for re-election to a two-year term as president of the Writers Guild of America East. Willimon also ran unopposed in 2017 to succeed Michael Winship. The WGA East announced a total of 24 candidates Thursday for its top officer posts [...]

  • The Last Cowboy

    Paramount Network Orders Unscripted Series 'Last Cowboy' From 'Yellowstone's' Taylor Sheridan

    Paramount Network is doubling down on its relationship with Taylor Sheridan. The cable network has ordered a new unscripted series created by Sheridan, the co-creator of the hit Paramount Network scripted series “Yellowstone.” The series is titled “The Last Cowboy.” It chronicles the lives of eight men and women who compete on the regular reining [...]

  • Demi MooreFriendly House Lunch, Arrivals, Los

    Demi Moore Joins 'Brave New World' Series at USA Network

    Demi Moore is the latest name to jump aboard UCP’s “Brave New World” series. The actress will play the recurring character of Linda, the brash, hard-living mother of Alden Ehrenreich’s character, John. The series, based on the Aldous Huxley novel of the same name, imagines a utopian society that has achieved peace and stability through [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content