Think Cold War espionage – what are the first things that spring to mind? Obscurely named missions and animal related code signals (‘the geese fly south at midnight!’)? Clench-jawed negotiations accompanied by liberal swigging of vodka? Hammy Russian accents and sharp suits? If so, the makers of BBC 2’s new Cold War spy drama, The Game, are very much on your wavelength. The Game situates itself firmly in the tradition set by Ian Fleming and John LeCarre – it knows the formula, and has chosen not to mess with it. The only thing missing was a poignant game of chess (which we can no doubt look forward to for next week).
Fortunately for The Game, it does the formula very well. Judging from the first episode, a new, exciting take on the realities of the Cold War it is not (if this is what you are looking for, I highly recommend The Americans). However, it is beautiful (set in 1972, no expense has been spared on cut glass and sepia lighting), and there is something undoubtedly pleasing in its familiarity and pointed Britishness. There is also ample eye-candy in the protagonist Joe Lambe (Tom Hughes), who looks every inch the former Burberry model that he is. At the moment he’s rather preoccupied with being brooding and inscrutable, which is slightly boring, but hopefully those chiselled cheekbones will perk up as the series continues.
While The Game treats us to a deliciously nostalgic look into the MI5 of the 1970s (were people ever really allowed to smoke inside THAT MUCH?), W1A whisks us into the heart of another British institution, the BBC. This takes a mockumentary style look at the BBC’s head offices in central London and basically shows us what idiots they all are. All the stock office characters are there: the inept intern; the browbeaten, bumbling executive; the bulldoggish head of department who in fact contributes nothing; and the snazzily dressed head of PR ‘who’s, like, totally cool with that’.
W1A is, however, also made and aired by the BBC. This means that by definition is it one massive, self-indulgent in-joke. But while this might not necessarily be such a terrible thing, the fact remains (whisper it), that it’s just not that funny. Of course I know myself and Oxstu readers might not be their target audience, most of us having all the joys of the open plan office and the ‘Sympatico’ staff café still awaiting us, but that still didn’t stop me laughing out loud at The Office. W1A seems conspicuously like an extended hand from the BBC for us to laugh with them and not at them, unfortunately, for me that resulted in no laughs at all.