TV REVIEW: Danger 5 – Series 1

Danger 5“Pull your trousers up and pay attention!  We’ve just had a report that Adolph Hitler is up to his old tricks again.  While his wehrmacht have our troops distracted on the battlefields of Europe, he’s been coming up with a bunch of ludicrous plans to destroy all things we love – like Truth! and Justice! and the Freedom to wear whatever silky undergarments we damn well please!  Well, we’re going to foil them.  Little does Hitler know, but we’ve had an undercover agent in his secret Antarctic lair for the past six weeks.”

I came across Danger 5 at the Abertoir Horror Festival last year – not the most obvious place to discover a spoof 60’s version of a WW2 spy caper, I’ll admit, but who doesn’t love a bit of late night silliness?  I’ve been feverishly hoping to catch more episodes ever since, but the DVD isn’t available outside of Australia, yet.  The lovely folks over at SBS were kind enough to send us over screeners of the full tv series, though.  Rather than describe it, here’s the official trailer to give you an idea of the the delirious set-up and the batty visuals.  I’ll go into more depth after the jump.

Who are Danger 5?  During the Second World War an international task-force was set up by Colonel Chestbridge (a man with the head of an eagle.  Don’t ask.  Really.  I have no idea.)  It’s mission was simple – to kill Hitler.  The members are as follows:  Tucker is a ginger action hero and the self appointed leader of Danger 5.  He’s an egotistical idealist, a go-getter and a bit of a plum when it comes to romance.  He totally loves Claire, but she barely seems to notice him.  Claire is the brains of the operation; a shrewd detective, and a determined fighter.  She’s a little repressed, but then she is British.

Meanwhile, Jackson is too cool for school; an all-drinking, all-smoking American action hero.  He has a soft underbelly when it comes to matters of the heart and Ilsa loves stabbing it.  Who’s Isla?  She’s a feisty Russian fighter, sexually liberated and devastatingly scathing to everyone around her.  She only speaks in Russian but happily everyone around her seems to understand her.  Finally, there’s Pierre, a tragi-comic Valentino type.  He is mostly used in infiltration but his biggest skills seem to lie behind the bar.  He’s kind of like the friendly glue that holds the group together, despite their bickering.

As with many programmes from different cultures, it’s quite hard to pin down what this is trying to be:  SBS list it as a comedy, but it’s not really laugh out loud funny; the emotional investment is too slight to be a drama, while the plots are so pulpish and silly that action/adventure seems like a woefully inadequate description.

One thing that is clear though – what an incredible labour of love the show is; tipping its hat to legends like Gerry Anderson, Ray Harryhausen and The Prisoner.  Creators Dario Russo and David Ashby (Italian Spiderman) manage to capture the look and the feel of the Sixties perfectly, from set design and costume to special effects and sound design.  (There’s something joyful about bad dubbing and actors who speak entirely different languages.)  It even seems to me like they’ve hunted out vintage film stock to give the right tone to their colours.  If not for the more extreme comedic elements you could be forgiven for thinking this was a lost classic (at first glance) instead of a gently mocking spoof.

I was saddened that I didn’t love it more than I ended up doing.  Perhaps the atmosphere of the festival skewed my take on it the first time round.  Perhaps its better watched in smaller segments.  I kind of found the humour underplayed – which I was not expecting.  Based on the trailer I thought I’d be roaring throughout, but most of the time I was chuckling gently.  While I appreciate character-based humour I wasn’t primed for it in a series that features such broad devices as talking animatronic dogs, giant robot sword fights and a room full of shark people.  The blend of humour was so bizarre to my sensibilities that I just couldn’t process it.

The other aspect that left me uncomfortable was the attitude to women.  This is an instinctive criticism rather than a rational one, because the women are in fact shown time and again to be just as capable (if not more so) than their male counterparts.  The trouble for me was that good-natured patronising misogyny was played for laughs.  It was clear that these ‘jokes’ are in fact satirising sexist attitudes, but they’re played so close to straight that laughing along with them leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.  I wouldn’t say you’d have to be drunk (or watching it really late at night in a student flat) to fully enjoy the experience, but they do feel like the ideal circumstances.

Personal gripes aside, there is some serious talent behind this project, and I find it difficult to decide whether putting it to such use is a blessing or a sad waste.  On the one hand we get to watch beautifully shot and utterly bonkers episodes like ‘Lizard Soldiers Of The Third Reich’ and ‘Kill-Men Of The Rising Sun.’  On the other, what could these guys do with time and a serious budget?  It’ll be a little while before we find out, because the second series of Danger 5 is on its way.

Three of the new episodes will be shown at Abertoir again this year, in fact.  If you want to watch Danger 5 you can hunt down the individual episodes on YouTube.  It looks like they’ve been uploaded unofficially, so I don’t know how good the quality is.  Alternatively, you can import the DVDs from Australia (very much appreciated by the creative team) or become a blogger and do the whole puppy-dog eyes thing (unheard of.  We never would!)  How you watch isn’t important though, so long as you finally manage to kill Hitler!

We’ll be posting a Danger 5 interview in the next issue of the Geek Syndicate magazine.  While you’re waiting for that, why not settle back and enjoy the pilot episode? The Diamond Girls Part 1/5Part 2/5Part 3/5Part 4/5Part 5/5. Not sure it’s your cup of tea?  Try Italian Spiderman instead 😀

Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak

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