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An espionage mission to uncover the sneakiest spy shows on television

Longtime Kim Possible fan Pete Douglas blows the cover on his favourite spy television shows of all time.

Back in the mid-2000’s my wife and I went on our OE, and had the bizarre idea of living in Cork, Ireland for a year rather than the usual London jaunt. We were cool, we were different, we were clueless. Cork is quite nice in a Hamilton kind of a way, but on weekend mornings there is literally nothing to do. There is no brunch scene. Coffee is something pretentious European wankers drink, and the weather was invariably bad.

I am an early riser, and so I’d whittle away my time watching Irish TV and the kids show Kim Possible before heading out to find signs of life. Kim is an everyday teen who just so happens to double as a badass spy, so she contends with whom to take to prom and some ludicrous espionage plot against her. 

Ever since that show kept me alive during my Irish exile I have loved a good spy show, so here’s my very subjective list of 10 of the best, rated out of 10 magnifying glasses:

Deutschland 83

Shot in and around Berlin, Deutschland 83 is an east-west German spy thriller set in the early 80’s where protagonist and East German border guard Martin Rauch impersonates a dead soldier in the West while working as a Stasi Spy. Not really fun times, but the show makes Berlin look amazing and cleverly uses 80’s pop music to break up the tense Cold War feel.

Burn Notice

A smart show and a different take on the spy genre, Burn Notice basically outlines what happens to a spy when they get burned (basically identified as an unreliable or off limits agent in the spy biz) – in this case Michael Westen (played by Jeffrey Donovan) who after being burned is hopelessly stuck in his hometown of Miami, trying to work out who put him on the naughty list and how he can get back off it.

Get Smart 

A loveable yet utterly bumbling buffoon, Maxwell Smart/Agent 86 (Don Adams) works for CONTROL – some kind of weird 60s government agency all about ensuring peace in our times or some such. The real brains of the operation is Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), who Max eventually marries, and has kids with. 99 was interestingly the first female character on an American sitcom to get married, have kids AND still keep her job afterwards. Good job 99.

   

Kim Possible 

I have already waxed lyrical here about my love of Kim Possible, and how she has helped me through some tough times. I highly recommend watching in tandem with that other female-driven mid 2000’s period piece Braceface for a cartoon girl power double act (you just can’t beat the Braceface theme song).

Danger Mouse (7.5 out of 10)

A classic cartoon about an eye-patch wearing mouse who is an agent for the British secret service, domiciled in an iconic red letterbox. Danger Mouse holds up all these years later and is often very funny in a deeply sardonic British kind of a way. Penfold is surely one of the all-time great spy sidekicks to boot.       

Chuck 

In a way a modern update on the “spy as incompetent fool” themes of Get Smart, Chuck updates that show for the nerd age. The concept is absurd – a college dropout, computer tech in a dead end job gets recruited by the NSA to help track down bad guys, while being partnered by beautiful and brilliant CIA agent Sarah Walker. But Chuck plays it all nicely for laughs, and there is some smart original use of the usual computer nerd tropes here.

The Americans 

There’s a reason this show picks up lots of awards – it’s really good. Perhaps part of the reason is that show creator Joe Weisberg did actually work at the CIA before he became a successful film and TV writer, meaning some of the storylines are actually based on real events. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are KGB officers who try to do their job as deep cover spies, while protecting their identity from their children and outsiders. Tense.

X Company

An historical WWII spy drama X Company follows a group of secret agents trained together and then sent out into the field to defeat Nazis in a range of wildly entertaining set-ups. A great watch when you’ve been thoroughly dispirited by something happening in the Trump White House and want to see some Nazis get punched without feeling bad about it (which is pretty much every day at the moment).            

24 

One day a study will be done proving that watching spy thrillers which feature a clock ticking constantly away on the bottom of the screen decrease your life expectancy. The gimmick has been parodied and now even re-booted to death, but the original Kiefer Sutherland helmed show is incredibly absorbing, even if it’s not great for your heart.  

Sorry, but I’m docking half a mark for my recent discovery of Sutherland’s country band.  

Alias 

Jennifer Garner as double/triple agent Sydney Bristow is a corporate banker by day (a banker? Really?) and a wig-wearing spy by night. Alias is really a loose concept show revolving around a strong female hero who is unable to rely on a wide range of men in her life. Her father, her lover, her slightly annoying friends (featuring a young Bradley Cooper), her colleagues – Garner has has trouble confiding in anyone, and most of the time she is completely vindicated in her mistrust. 


Click below to catch up on X Company (9 out of 10 magnifying glasses) before season three arrives to Lightbox on Monday evening:

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