Spooks: Daring, incisive, brilliant television.
There are a few exceptions to the rule. Peep Show, Nighty Night, Nathan Barley, The Thick of It and Extras have shown that inventive, rule-breaking comedy can still be done, while for drama, Life on Mars and Spooks have been the main triumphs.
Now into its fifth series, Spooks has if anything become even more daring. Following the lives of MI5 agents at the very heart of the fight against terrorism, espionage and corrupt government, it's evolved into an almost subversive reaction to the current world situation. Back in its third series, in the aftermath of the Hutton report's chilling effect on the BBC, the programme went full throttle against imaginary government ministers who wanted to crush dissent within the service to what it was being used to justify. At the beginning of the current series, MI5 found itself not having to prevent attacks by al-Qaida, but instead a right-wing coup plot reminiscent of that which some claim threatened Harold Wilson in the Seventies. Under the banner of protecting the country from further suicide bombings, business leaders, reactionary politicians and renegade spooks teamed up to install the current prime minister as a de-facto dictator, removing habeas corpus and dissolving parliament. The situation was only saved after protests organised by bloggers, and with the prime minister's own son, being protected by one of the agents, taking part in the march himself.
Last night's episode, the conclusion of a two-parter, went even further into conspiracy and the murky world of other nations' security services. The premise of the episode, MI5 being called in to make sure that a deal between Saudi Arabia and Britain went through, with Britain selling the Arab nation nuclear technology in exchange for cut price oil, quickly morphed into something quite different. Thinking that those opposed to the deal were jihadis wanting to stop the deal to undermine the Saudi royal family, the agents were led into following suicide bombers. The first episode ended with one bomber being shot, only for it to be discovered that his bomb belt was filled with putty, not explosive. At the same time, the Saudi world trade centre where the deal was being finalised was raided by terrorists, taking the diplomats hostage.
The reality quickly became clear. Rather than being jihadists, the hostage takers were actually Mossad agents, who wanted to stop the deal from going through for obvious reasons. Helped by an sympathetic mole within MI5, they had the perfect cover story: who else would take Saudis hostage but those who want to overthrow the monarchy?
Few programmes, especially ones by the BBC, would dare to invite the wrath of the powerful Israeli lobby, which as far as I've noticed seems to have missed the show, as otherwise I'm sure they would have been verbose about such a plot device. Showing the Israelis as anything other than the victims of Palestinian terrorism and Blair's totally false sense of grievance is usually asking for trouble. That Spooks not only did so, but did it without falling into the wacko world of those who think that 9/11 was a similar plot between Mossad and the CIA, makes it all the more praiseworthy. Next week's show, reflecting the current debate over the veil, but obviously not around when it was filmed, is about fundamentalist Christians plotting an attack on a Muslim community.
Spooks proves that TV can be entertaining, exhilarating and still make you think, and much like 24 but without the overly right-wing tone which that show has taken on, Spooks manages it with ease.