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4.4 out of 5 stars
Strike Back: Season 1 (Cinemax) (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)
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91 of 92 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
In a curious decision, Cinemax decided to import the British spy adventure "Strike Back" to its U.S. viewing schedule. In and of itself, that's certainly not a strange choice as this entertaining program is an expert blend of espionage, action, humor, and sex. What is odd is that they started with Season Two (must have to do with money, always has to do with money)! So the designation used in the DVD release stating that this is the Complete First Season is a tad misleading. It is simply the first season that was brought to a North American audience. For purists or completists, the first season is being sold on an All Region DVD/Blu-ray (with potential playback problems for some U.S. players) as "Chris Ryan's Strike Back." So check that out or hope for a Region 1 DVD version. It is six solid and self-contained episodes featuring a tremendously astute and multi-layered performance by Richard Armitage as the central hero John Porter. Armitage does show up to play a pivotal role in the first episode of this season, but the narrative is structured around a core of different actors and an entirely new international threat. You certainly don't have to have seen the Armitage arc to enjoy these episodes, though, this functions fully as a stand-alone adventure.

This season, classified as Project Dawn, consists of ten episodes and introduces two new leads. Square jawed Philip Winchester plays upright Sergeant Michael Stonebridge and he is teamed with ex-Delta Force operative Damien Scott, played by Sullivan Stapleton. In a complicated plot, the two are chasing villains and Weapons of Mass Destruction in a series of global escapades that have them not only on British soil, but in New Delhi, Cape Town, Sudan, and Kosovo. Just as they seem to be getting close to their target, a new discovery is made that thwarts their expectations. Each stop of their pursuit leads to new alliances, new deceptions and new losses. One of the things I appreciate about "Strike Back" is that (just like in real life) the team suffers some pretty catastrophic set-backs and not everyone that starts this season will finish it! The episodes are taut, and often explicit, and the pacing keeps things moving forward at a nice clip. It takes a few shows for the plot to really fall into its groove, but when it does--there is no stopping it until the extremely satisfying conclusion. The final sequences are operatic and devastating!

Winchester is impressive and strong, but Stapleton gets the showier role by far. His disgraced agent operates by rules of his own and the show survives largely on the opposites attract chemistry of these two actors. They play off each other well, at first for comic effect, but they genuinely bond as partners. Amanda Mealing is also essential as their no-nonsense boss and as the series progresses, you see just how vital she is to the action. The supporting cast is uniformly solid, but this core trio keep the viewer invested as the spy plot veers around the world. The show has copious amounts of violence and plays for an adult action audience. There is also plenty of equal opportunity nudity. Staptleton, in particular, always seems willing to give it a go. With his multiple partners, however, I kept wishing there might be more accessible showers and a supply of condoms handy (but this bit of hygiene and safety never seemed to bother anyone)!

If you like shows such as MI-5 or 24, this plays to those same sensibilities. It is well acted and the action sequences are well choreographed. A strong recommendation for adults, this may not be the greatest show I've ever seen (but what is?). It is, however, solidly entertaining and a ride worth taking. Cinemax has picked up the rights to Season Three as well, so I'm looking forward to the next global disaster! About 4 1/2 stars for non-stop action. KGHarris, 4/12.
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
24 off the air! The Border off the air! Spooks in the final season! Caught Strike Back on Cinemax and it is great to watch a series with a budget that is not hampered by US censors. Violence galore, nudity and a very interesting plot. Strike Back may not have the complexity of Spooks, though with much more in your face violence, it is like 24 on steroids with some of the witty dialogue reminiscent of the last 2 seasons of The Border. As this is done in a serial format, watching in a few sittings would be like a really long non stop action movie. Highly recommended.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Fancy a backstory? You're in for one now. Before Cinemax signed on as co-producer, STRIKE BACK was already one season in and flourishing in the UK under the auspices of Sky1 Network. When Cinemax, which had been looking for its own original primetime series, piggybacked and took the show across the pond, the big suits determined to skip Season 1 (comprised of six episodes) altogether and instead launch with Season 2. Season 1 featured Richard Armitage's crack commando John Porter. Except when the Americans tuned in, they only knew him as: one) the catalyst that gets one main character onboard and two) as sacrificial lamb. So be aware that our Season 1 - ten episodes long - is actually the UK's Season 2, with Armitage barely in it.

I dig the stylish opening credits, by the way, and especially the smoky theme song, "Short Change Hero" by the Heavy. The song right away sets you in the mood for globe-trotting skullduggery and blistering special forces-type combat. Every nation boasts its own covert elite unit of heart breakers and life takers, and the Brits have got their own. Section 20 doesn't exist, is the official stance, never mind that it's a branch of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). This nonexistent stealth military unit handles the sort of missions that would make Jack Bauer giddy; it specializes in "high risk priority targets," so cue that generous heap of nasty black ops and wholesale wetworks and enough impressive weaponry to make Charlton Heston's eyes grow big.

When Section 20 agent John Porter is abducted by the international terrorist Latif, and Latif proceeds to make Section 20 look dang silly in their rescue attempts, it's time to call for reinforcements. Section 20's field commander, Sergeant Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester, a Yank playing a Brit), is sent to the arse end of Malaysia to recruit down-and-out ex-Delta Force operative Damian Scott (Sullivan Stapleton, an Aussie playing a Yank), never mind that Scott is not only a disgraced soldier but is, to boot, undisciplined and defiant of authority. Dude's like chaos on legs. STRIKE BACK's Season 1 (in America) tracks Damian Scott's settling into Section 20 as he and the buttoned-down Sgt. Stonebridge wage sanctioned war on terrorism.

It'll cost them. The show doesn't hesitate to depict the brutal fallouts, the stark consequences. Plenty of collateral damage in these episodes, plenty of innocent casualties. It lends a measure of believability that the good guys occasionally don't win, can't always save the innocents. The torrid combat sequences alone are worth tuning in for. The narrative threads are complexly woven and informed. An edge-of-the-seat suspense is evoked effortlessly, especially since the show's made no bones that any cast member is expendable. And if you're a whirlwind sightseer from the comforts of your couch, you're in for a treat. Section 20's season-long pursuit of the diabolic Latif deploys the field team to exotic locales such as Chechnya, Kosovo, Darfur, and other dubious tourist spots. I keep expecting Liam Neeson to show up, looking for his daughter.

And because this is, after all, Cinemax - or as I refer to it, "Skinemax" - there is rampant nudity. As a manly man, I can't believe I'm saying this, but the show forfeits a bit of verisimilitude with its persistent exhibition of gorgeous, nekkid ladies and of Sullivan Stapleton's cheeks in every ep. Even THE GAME OF THRONES is appalled at the sheer nudity of this show. Me, I'll probably get over it... There, I'm over it.

I stumbled onto this show accidentally while channel surfing, and at first I thought I was watching an episode of RED SHOE DIARIES. But 20 sweaty seconds later, the camera shifts perspective to Scott and Stonebridge on mission, and I was hooked. I don't want to skimp praise on Amanda Mealing who, as the draconic head of Section 20, Colonel Eleanor Grant, not only is a gold medalist at casting withering gazes but looks damn good in military fatigues. But, mostly, it's about the two leads, Winchester and Stapleton, whose bickering buddy chemistry is awesome. Stapleton, who has charisma for days, lands the meatier, more gregarious role. It's not at all surprising that he's the breakout character. Go see STRIKE BACK. Shockingly, it's one of the best shows on television. It's like 24 for viewers with attention deficit disorder.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Format: Blu-ray
Ahh, Cinemax. Home to all of the same movies on HBO but also home to everyone's favorite late-night soft-core porn. So how does this channel look to distinguish itself from HBO other than the soft-core porn? Two words: Original Programming. But since it's Cinemax, it has to have a program that not too dissimilar in flavor to what Cinemax is so well-known for. So they imported a show from the UK originally called CHRIS RYAN'S STRIKE BACK, shortened the title, and according to information about that show, Cinemax splashed it with a super-sized helping of pretty graphic violence and lots of (mostly) unnecessary sex and lo and behold Cinemax gave us STRIKE BACK.

The show is, in essence, a volatile chemical mixture of the conspiracies and action of 24, the stand-alone episodic suspense and serious character work of SPOOKS (known here in the US on PBS as MI-5), the kind of tech and teamwork of THE UNIT, the kind of graphic violence Premium Cable allows for, and some of the gratuitous sex and nudity of Cinemax's late-night fare. The structure of the show is a buddy-action film with two mis-matched partners going after the bad guys and kicking (and showing) some serious buttocks, but intermingled with some more serious and shocking moments you wouldn't expect.

On the partner side you have the stiff British soldier Alex Stonebridge (the impossibly well-chiseled Philip Winchester) who is all about the orders and the mission, and then there's the sloppy and rugged American, the disgraced former Delta named Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton, suitably tough) who is all about the ladies and the action. Stonebrigde works for a secret unit of British Military Intelligence called Section 20, run by Colonel Eleanor Grant (a terrific Amanda Mealing). An operative of theirs is killed in the hunt to find a Middle-Eastern terror mastermind called Latif, and in order to find Latif, Scott is reluctantly brought on-board in Section 20. Over the ten episodes of this season, there are some real highlights, some real low-lights, but mostly a pretty solid piece of entertainment.

Among the real highlights of the season are an extremely tense two-parter where Stonebridge and Scott along with Capt. Kate Marshall (the lovely Eva Birthistle), another Section 20 agent and Stonebridge's secret lover, square off against a former IRA bomber (the always great Liam Cunningham); another extremely tense two-parter with Stonebridge and Scott as they partner up with an arms dealer (GAME OF THRONES's Iain Glen) to free his daughter from an African rebel army's leader (LOST's Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje); a truly magnificent set-piece involving a minefield, and a massive firefight with Stonebridge and Scott vs dozens of Chechen rebels all look to raise your pulse or stall your breathing. The final sacrifice. These are all moments that push this show into pretty awesome territory.

Among the low-lights of the show, one is that there is very little character development beyond what's on the surface. Stonebridge and Scott get by on their looks, action-hero personas and charm. The other semi-major characters of Section 20, like Maj. Sinclair (Rhashan Stone) and Sgt. Richmond (Michelle Lukes) have no development. They're not quite red-shirt "Star Trek" characters (but to be fair, there are more than a few of those), but they have no real life to them, and that's not the fault of the performers. The only character that seems to really have a developmental arc is Col. Grant, and she has some questionable motives. Scott's sexual liasons are as unrealistic as the other Cinemax late-night fare (the woman in the bar he talks to for 2 minutes; the only beautiful hostage; etc.). The absolute worst thing the show does is a pretty significant death for Stonebridge happens, and once it's done with, it's done with. You never really see that revisit his character, and you never see anyone else grieve or really even acknowledge the death. The direction never seems terribly inspired either. It's pretty much a point-and-shoot show.

So yes, there is a first season that was shown in the UK that actually concentrates on the character who is the lynchpin of Scott coming to Section 20, but there is no way of really seeing that in the US because of the apparent region coding issues on those discs. The real showrunner of STRIKE BACK is Andy Harries, who's been doing TV and film in the UK for a few decades, with shows like WALLANDER and films like THE QUEEN. But when the show got stateside, the biggest name involved was Frank Spotnitz, whose work previously included the awful remake of KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER for TV a few years back and sci-fi thrillers like HARSH REALM and MILLENIUM. But Spotnitz was also a producer for THE X-FILES (and the first episode of this show has a HUGE shout-out to that show) so having someone on staff who was a big part of one of the greatest television series ever is a big plus in this show's favor.

STRIKE BACK is a throwback to charming 80's buddy-action cinema but with the sensibilites of more modern storytelling techniques, and a healthy amount of flesh give this show a very unusual flavor, but it's tasty enough to make you want seconds.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2013
Great character development, great action, great humor, great plots, the works. The only complaint I have is these premiere channels thinking they have to put a 20 second porn scene in every show, I will never understand that. Other than that.....if you were a 24 fan I cannot believe you will not love this show. Check it out!!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2013
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Something for the guys and the ladies. The show is not to be missed. I can't wait for the next season on DVD. Something to purchase because you will watch several times.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2013
Format: Blu-ray
I started buying DVD/Blu-ray combo sets before I had a Blu-ray player, so I could watch the DVD right away, then later have the enhanced Blu-ray viewing experience.

If, by chance, that's your current situation, then do NOT buy the Strike Back combo Set for the DVD's. The ten episodes of the series are contained on two double-sided DVD's: four sides, with two of them containing two episodes, two containing three, and due perhaps to the compression, they look rather poor: like middling-grade broadcast TV of a few years ago; and given the fantastic production values of Strike Back, it really does a disservice to the series (the Blu-rays look fine). No idea how the regular DVD set looks: it's still four "sides", but on four separate disks, not two.

I only discovered this when I took the DVD's to watch with my brother who has a high-def TV, but doesn't have a Blu-ray player: he still enjoyed the show, but I felt badly at how much of the real-world feel of the action, and gorgeous photography, was missing.

I'd also point out that Amazon's listing is inaccurate (I won't say "deceptive," as it's probably an honest mistake): by listing Andrew Lincoln in the cast, it implies that this set contains the original (also excellent) 6-episode British series as well as the first series of the Cinemax version, but that's not the case. This set only contains the first Cinemax series, in both Blu-ray and DVD versions. There is a Blu-ray set with both the British and Cinemax "first series" (Strike Back 1 & 2 [Blu-ray]) but it runs about $20 more (though if I hadn't received this as a gift, I'd probably have ponied up the extra freight to get both series).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2013
Format: DVD
This is the best action series I've ever watched. Casting is downright perfect. I can't wait for the next season.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2013
Format: Amazon Instant VideoVerified Purchase
What is not to like great spy stories nudity guns it is a guys show for sure. If you find a girl who likes it she is a keeper.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
In a curious decision, Cinemax decided to import the British spy adventure "Strike Back" to its U.S. viewing schedule. In and of itself, that's certainly not a strange choice as this entertaining program is an expert blend of espionage, action, humor, and sex. What is odd is that they started with Season Two (must have to do with money, always has to do with money)! So the designation used in the DVD release and this on-demand listing stating that this is the Complete First Season is a tad misleading. It is simply the first season that was brought to a North American audience. For purists or completists, the actual first season is being sold on an All Region DVD/Blu-ray (with potential playback problems for some U.S. players) as "Chris Ryan's Strike Back." So check that out or hope for a Region 1 DVD version. It is six solid and self-contained episodes featuring a tremendously astute and multi-layered performance by Richard Armitage as the central hero John Porter. Armitage does show up to play a pivotal role in the first episode of this season, but the narrative is structured around a core of different actors and an entirely new international threat. You certainly don't have to have seen the Armitage arc to enjoy these episodes, though, this functions fully as a stand-alone adventure.

This season, classified as Project Dawn, consists of ten episodes and introduces two new leads. Square jawed Philip Winchester plays upright Sergeant Michael Stonebridge and he is teamed with ex-Delta Force operative Damien Scott, played by Sullivan Stapleton. In a complicated plot, the two are chasing villains and Weapons of Mass Destruction in a series of global escapades that have them not only on British soil, but in New Delhi, Cape Town, Sudan, and Kosovo. Just as they seem to be getting close to their target, a new discovery is made that thwarts their expectations. Each stop of their pursuit leads to new alliances, new deceptions and new losses. One of the things I appreciate about "Strike Back" is that (just like in real life) the team suffers some pretty catastrophic set-backs and not everyone that starts this season will finish it! The episodes are taut, and often explicit, and the pacing keeps things moving forward at a nice clip. It takes a few shows for the plot to really fall into its groove, but when it does--there is no stopping it until the extremely satisfying conclusion. The final sequences are operatic and devastating!

Winchester is impressive and strong, but Stapleton gets the showier role by far. His disgraced agent operates by rules of his own and the show survives largely on the opposites attract chemistry of these two actors. They play off each other well, at first for comic effect, but they genuinely bond as partners. Amanda Mealing is also essential as their no-nonsense boss and as the series progresses, you see just how vital she is to the action. The supporting cast is uniformly solid, but this core trio keep the viewer invested as the spy plot veers around the world. The show has copious amounts of violence and plays for an adult action audience. There is also plenty of equal opportunity nudity. Staptleton, in particular, always seems willing to give it a go. With his multiple partners, however, I kept wishing there might be more accessible showers and a supply of condoms handy (but this bit of hygiene and safety never seemed to bother anyone)!

If you like shows such as MI-5 or 24, this plays to those same sensibilities. It is well acted and the action sequences are well choreographed. A strong recommendation for adults, this may not be the greatest show I've ever seen (but what is?). It is, however, solidly entertaining and a ride worth taking. Cinemax has picked up the rights to Season Three as well, so I'm looking forward to the next global disaster! About 4 1/2 stars for non-stop action. KGHarris, 4/12.
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