When MI-5 first hit American shores, Alias was in full swing, and the comparisons were inevitable. After all, both were sy shows set in a post September 11 world, and both were slick, fun thrillers. Fast forward to 2006, however, and the landscape has changed dramatically. Alias is now off the air, having crashed in spectacular fashion, yet MI-5 is still going strong. In fact, the show just seems to keep getting better and better.
I had my concerns when all the key members of the original cast departed one by one, but as the show goes on, I am realizing that the story lines here are much bigger than any one cast can handle. High pressure jobs such as these virtually demand a high rate of turnover, and the actors who come in to play these new characters are always first-rate. While early seasons dealt with your typical spy stories, more recent efforts are starting to tackle much larger issues of governance, such as terrorism and the delicate balance of power that holds a democracy together.
It seems like each new season arrives with a new cliffhanger. While the span between seasons one and two had the conflict situated on a semi-personal level, things have elevated to the point now to include major coordinated terrorist attacks and corruption that goes to the highest levels of the British government. This is extremely exciting stuff, and the stories are told with a level of detail and tension that is rarely seen on shows produced here in the States.
The BBC has hit a perfect balance on this show between looking polished and looking authentic. The program is presented in a beautiful widescreen format that fills the screen with action. There don’t appear to be any real problems with edge enhancement or jaggies. However, the show also has the look of a documentary, or an event taking place live. Hand held cameras are used extensively, and the program is not afraid of using grainy images to add to the sense of being on the spot as the events take place. This is not the prettiest image you will see this year, but it has deliberately been created in order to tell the story in the most realistic way possible. At the end of the day, that’s all I really want anyway.
Viewers get two audio options, the standard 2.0 track, and a rich 5.1 offering. The 5.1 track is my preferred choice, of course, as it presents a rich, wide sound field that is simply not attainable through standard stereo. Dialog is full and rich, and the entire storyline just opens up when presented in surround sound. Ambient noises come mostly through the surround speakers, and they do an admirable job of faithfully recreating the environments these stories take place in. As with the video, the main role of the audio here seems to be to place the viewer in the story. Also like the video, this conceit works perfectly. This is the perfect audio mix for this fascinating series.
Earlier seasons of this show were packed with tons of commentaries, cast interviews and documentaries. As the seasons have continued to arrive on DVD, however, the special features are starting to become more and more scarce. The offerings on this release are particularly spartan. These are only two commentary tracks this time around, for the final two episodes on the set. here is also a 15-minute featurette called A Guide to Series 5, which is basically just a glorified electronic press kit.
The only other extras on this five-disc set is a trailer for this season, and a short sneak peek at season 6. All told, this is a far cry from the extras-laden releases I had gotten used to seeing for this program.
OK,so the extra features are not as plentiful as they used to be. I can live with that. The episodes themselves are still head and shoulders above just about anything else on television today. With The West Wing, The Sopranos and the aforementioned Alias all off the air, there are very few quality programs left that have the ability to make audiences think while they are being entertained. Sure, mindless programming can be fun, but when a thought-provoking show comes along, that’s when I get hooked. Leave it to the BBC to find that balance. While this show is decidedly British, it is amazing how often the series makes a comment on government that cuts to the heart of the problems that Americans are currently facing in the world. This is an excellent release of an important and extremely entertaining program, and I am proud to add it to my personal DVD collection.