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5 TV Spies To Love On DVD

3 minute read
James Poniewozik


If there was ever a show made to be watched on DVD, it’s this one. Experiencing 24’s twists and turns all at once makes it easier to sustain the real-time rush (and to notice those convenient jumps between episodes, in which characters make it crosstown in L.A. traffic in five minutes). Season 4 was even more of an implausible thrill ride than usual. But it was the series’ best season for raw acting performances, especially Shohreh Aghdashloo’s as the hard-bitten-but-sympathetic matriarch of a sleeper-cell family. As agent Jack Bauer, Kiefer Sutherland is a grimly expressive study as he realizes that doing his ugly duty may cost him his public face and the woman he loves–and yet does it anyway.


Long before Alias’ Jennifer Garner traveled the world’s nightclubs undercover and barely covered, Diana Rigg donned the catsuit of justice as superhot, supercool British spook Emma Peel. The plots seem frothy in retrospect–in one, an alien artichoke threatens mankind. But the quick-witted, flirty interplay between Mrs. Peel and bowler-hatted John Steed (Patrick Macnee) never gets old. This massive set collects all 51 Peel episodes plus three rare Avengers, a making-of film and more. Crisply written and sophisticated, it’s a stylish time capsule of the mid-’60s apex of British mod-era style.


This family drama cum spy series from J.J. Abrams (Lost) ends this spring after five years. But it seems longer, given how often the show reinvented itself, changing Sydney Bristow (Garner) from a double to a single agent and turning bad guys to good and back. In the penultimate season, Bristow discovers the secrets of a long-lost sister and untangles a plot involving–oh, I have only a paragraph? Then let’s just say that, for all its wild twists, Alias is emotionally grounded by A+ actors like Victor Garber (as Sydney’s caring but ruthless dad), Ron Rifkin (as her oily boss turned nemesis turned boss) and Garner, whose tough, empathetic vulnerability puts the act in action.

MI-5 – VOLUME THREE In this dark, tense, terrifically grownup British spy series, the wiliest enemies are often on the same side as the good guys. As the third season opens, British agent Tom Quinn (the steely Matthew Macfadyen) has been set up in the assassination of the head of the British military, allowing rivals in the government to launch a political takeover of the MI-5 security service. In many ways, it resembles 24–the subterfuge, the personal entanglements, the willingness to kill major characters–but MI-5 is less pyrotechnic and more cerebral. The good guys harbor doubts and make grievous mistakes, and the series offers no easy moral answers. In the war against terrorism, MI-5 understands, uncertainty is the scariest thing of all.


In the pilot of this espionage spoof, a trio of comely ex-felons (led by Species’ Natasha Henstridge) is assigned to guard a politician about to tape the first episode of a talk show. “The first one’s always a cheat,” says team member D.D. (Kristen Miller). “The rest of the series is never as good.” No such problem here. Loaded with sharp, fourth-wall-breaking humor, this show lampoons both serious spy serials and the vaunted babes-kicking-butt-in-syndication genre. The storytelling won’t tax your brain (in one episode, a villain is helpfully labeled Evil Doctor by the onscreen graphics), but this is smart dumb entertainment at its best.

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