In this fruitful era of golden TV budgets, there’s an almost unreasonable expectation for new action series to deliver – particularly shows without superhero spandex. What might’ve been scrapped twenty years ago to save cash is now on the frontlines, with Spielbergian production values, to further explode the line between TV and cinema. The new Sky One series Cobra follows this trend: not profound in its drama, but eager in its thrills.
Episode one kicks off with a massive set piece: a passenger plane has trouble landing, and the only strip available is the A1 dual carriageway. We jump to 24 hours earlier as we’re introduced to the Prime Minister: not in the bloated, bumbling form of Boris Johnson, but in the tough and watchable frame of Robert Carlyle. He plays Robert Sutherland, the Tory leader, supported by his chief-of-staff Victoria Hamilton (Anna Marshall) to the hatred of almost everyone around.
These Tories are of the nicer kind, fending off their party’s self-serving MPs – as represented by Archie, the Home Secretary, played by the viciously funny David Haig. We’re treated to Haig’s gloriously sweary talents immediately, his first line being “Fuck that!”. Often in these political action series (Jack Ryan springs to mind) the swearing isn’t written all that well; it’s not as stinging, satisfying, or even as eloquent as it should be. Cobra manages just fine.
Eventually, in a baffling meteorological shift, Cobra goes into disaster mode. The main politicians and strategists enter Cabinet Office Briefing Room A (COBRA), which is essentially the British equivalent of the White House Situation Room. This room, populated with massive monitors under dramatic shadows, tackles national matters and potential threats. Incredibly, the first threat comes from the Sun: its solar flares are reaching the Earth, threatening a ‘plasma eruption’ that’ll black out the world.
In the COBRA room, heavy exposition blasts from every office chair. Detailed monologues hit you in the face and block your senses, making it difficult to hear or see or even think properly. When the Prime Minister tries to explain the same situation to his wife later on, she bluntly responds ‘I don’t have a fucking clue what that means’ – and it’s hard not to laugh. But writer/creator Ben Richards provides the basics: the sun’s acting up, the world might end, etc., and that’s enough to indulge in its escapism.
Weaving in and around this global crisis are the scathing rivalries and back-stabbings of government, managed by Robert and Victoria to quash their ‘nasty party’ reputation. Richards keeps his finger on the current political pulse; even Brexit is mentioned. There’s a considerable amount of schmoozing and a secret backstory about Victoria and a fair few conflicts in the Sutherland household. It’s a lot to package into one episode, so hopefully the next five will spread with better clarity. Cobra is fun, disaster-movie nonsense with a sumptuously cinematic edge. It goes too far afield to understand completely, but it’s still a thrilling escape.
Airing from Friday 17th of January.