David Morrissey and John Simm star in "State of Play" (BBC photo)

David Morrissey and John Simm star in "State of Play" (BBC photo)

Here we are entering the middle of summer, and we’ve hit a stretch where “Wipeout” qualifies as good TV. Yes, “Rescue Me” aside, we’ve hit the summer doldrums. So now’s the perfect opportunity to pop in a DVD and catch up on some quality TV that you’ve missed out on. Today’s pick: The 2003 BBC miniseries “State of Play.”

This is the six-episode miniseries the recent Russell Crowe/Ben Affleck movie was based on. Here’s a hint: Skip the movie and go directly to the original. It’s longer, better and much more satisfying. Plus, no Affleck.

The fast-paced plot kicks off with the death of a British Parliament minister’s assistant in the London subway. Turns out she was having an affair with her boss, who’s on a key energy committee and is now being hounded by the press. The one friend who stands by him is an old reporter buddy, who finds a disturbing link between the politician and the murder of a petty thief. Things just get more complicated from there, as the body count mounts and a web of intrigue spins into a complex conspiracy involving the highest levels of government and big business.

I got the series this week from Netflix, and I’m burning through it. It’s an intelligent thriller that hooks you from the opening scene. Though the setup could be a plotline from “24,” the story is less frenetic and more thoughtful, though still tense — reminiscent of the great BBC spy series “MI-5.” As far as suspenseful storytelling goes, it’s almost perfect.

The cast is top-notch. Among the familiar faces: John Simm (Sam from the BBC’s “Life on Mars”) as the tabloid reporter uncovering a scandal that could bring down the government; Bill Nighy (“Love Actually,” “Shawn of the Dead”) as his suave-yet-trashy editor; David Morrissey (“Viva Blackpool”) as the politician at the center of it all; Polly Walker (the deliciously evil Atia on HBO’s  “Rome”) as his wife; James McAvoy (“Atonement,” “Wanted”), in one of his first big roles, as a drunkard freelance reporter; and Philip Glenister (the BBC’s “Life on Mars,” “Ashes to Ashes”) as a cop trying to figure it all out. They’re all outstanding dramatic actors, and elevate what could have been a routine murder mystery into something truly great. And of course they all have cool British accents, so that’s a bonus.

One small warning: “State of Play” is highly addictive. If it’s late at night and you decide to watch an episode before bed, you just may find yourself still up at 3 a.m., debating whether to watch just one more episode.

My advice: Watch it — catch up on your sleep later.

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