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.