Saturday, 20 October 2012

SPY review – 'Codename: Growing Rogue' (series 2 premiere)

Saturday, 20 October 2012

written by Simeon Goulden / directed by John Henderson

I wasn't a fan of Sky1's Spy when it debuted last year, and that's something of an understatement. The basic concept has merit (a plebeian single father of a prodigious child accidentally becomes a spy, but is therefore unable to impress his son by sharing the news), but there were fundamental flaws that preventing me from buying into the show. The biggest let-down was a ridiculous lack of espionage, as the only sign Tim (Darren Boyd) had wangled a job at MI5 was a running gag with a high-tech "talking door" and the fact his boss, "The Examiner" (Robert Lindsay), would occasionally throw a ninja star. I only actually remember one "mission" Tim was involved with, and that involved retrieving a plastic bag from atop some scaffolding. Oh, the excitement!

For me, Spy worked much better as a dysfunctional family comedy, particularly because Tim's astute son Marcus (Jude Wright) proved to be so entertaining. Much of this was down to Wright himself, who has the aura of a small boy possessed by the spirit of a politician in his late-thirties. Other than Wright and the always-likeable Boyd (who nevertheless didn't really deserve a BAFTA for this role), Spy was something of a washout in my eyes. However, for some bizarre reason, it became a big hit for Sky, so a second series has duly appeared...

I can barely remember specifics of where Spy left off after series 1, but it appears to be business as usual. Tim has his secret job as a (now fully qualified) spy; he's still fighting for custody of Marcus from ex-wife Judith (Dolly Wells) and her boyfriend; and there's a love-triangle developing at work between Tim, colleague Caitlin (Rebekah Staton) and handsome American spook Portis (Terence Maynard). A few changes have been made, thankfully, but perhaps more out of actor unavailability than anything else: Mark Heap (Spaced) is playing Judith's lover, the headmaster of Marcus' school, while comic actor Miles Jupp (Rev) has joined the show as ineffectual family counsellor Owen. Those are changes I definitely approve of, although it felt more promising just to see more of Tim's workplace—now the show has a story to tell there thanks to Portis' presence—and the episode even managed a laugh-out-loud scene with Tim and best-friend Chris (Mathew Baynton) camouflaged up a tree together.

But as before, the best thing about Spy has little to do with the title's concerns, but rather the sharp performance of young Wright—who in this premiere got a cute story about trying to become school president, up against equally wise-beyond-his-years classmate Nick (Frank Kauer). In many ways, I wish Spy was more the UK's answer to Malcolm in the Middle, than a redo of Chuck without the geeky sci-fi bedrock, because it's more entertaining to watch Tim struggle to connect with his sarcastic son than go through the motions with a humdrum workplace romance.

Overall, Spy's back and I'm sure it's going to delight those who loved the first series. There were enough improvements to tempt me back next week, but I still don't think it takes full advantage of itself. I hear a US remake is on the cards, and I can well imagine them doing a much better job with the concept—if only because American-sized budgets will enable a version of Tim who goes on Bond-style missions and has fun with that aspect of Spy—which remains vexingly unexploited by creator Simeon Goulden.

I can only hope Sky have thrown some money Spy's way this series, in the wake of its bizarre BAFTA win, so stuff like the helicopter stunt depicted on its misleading promotional photos (above-right) actually come to pass...

19 October 2012 / Sky1