Wednesday, December 21, 2005

TV BLOGGING: Sleeper Cell, Episode # 1

Well, I guess Showtime is really breathing down HBO's neck now. In the last year or so, shows like The L Word and Masters of Horror have been giving HBO's aging stable of original series a run for their money in terms of quality and buzz. Sex and the City is gone, The Sopranos is running out of steam, and on and on...

Sleeper Cell, a new series about an African-American FBI agent infiltrating a cabal of "holy warriors" in Los Angeles, looks likely to stoke that trend rather than curtail it. The series stars the charismatic Michael Ealy as our FBI protagonist, a man named Darwyn. That's a good choice of names, because watching the first episode, one senses he will have to be "fit" indeed to "survive" life under deep cover, inside a terrorist cell.

Anyway, in the first episode, Darwyn is released from the Federal Penitentiary at Lompoc, only to be contacted at a synagogue by an Islamic terrorist named Faris-al-Farak (a very menacing Oded Fehr). Darwyn is taken into the group's confidence on a first mission, at the same time falling in love with one terrorist's neighbor, a hottie single mom named Gail (Melissa Sagemiller) who sleeps around on the first date. Yowza!

A strange cross between 24 and Prison Break, Sleeper Cell -- at least in its first episode -- is beautifully photographed by ace cinematographer Robert Primes, and is filled with moments of pure menace and anxiety; such as when a terrorist named "Bobby" (Abdullah Habib) is punished by his fellow jihadists for boasting about their upcoming mission to a relative in Egypt. The other terrorists bury the guy up to his neck in desert sands and then throw rocks at his skull. Nice.

I'm only one episode in, and I know that the terrorists are up to no good because each sleeper cell guy has been given a vial of "military issue cipro." But Darwyn remains committed to "playing this out till the end," and even after 50 minutes, I worry for his safety; and our nation's.

While watching the first episode, I kept feeling that this show represents a sea tide shift in national politics. Isn't it interesting how fast TV and film turn a real life crisis into manufactured melodrama? I remember when, four years ago, the makers of 24 were not allowed to depict an airplane blowing up in mid-air, because of the 9/11 attacks. Then, last year, when 24 featured Islamic villains, civil liberties groups across the nation went nutso about it. In response, there was a service announcement (by Keifer Sutherland...) saying that in real life, Muslims are not all terrorists. And then there was the episode wherein two American Muslim shopkeepers defended Jack Bauer to the death against his enemies, again proving that Muslims are good citizens. This year, Sleeper Cell premieres, and what happens - I don't hear a word of complaint from anybody or any special interest group!

This must mean the War on Terror is over. Someone better tell George W. Bush to stop those NSA wiretaps...

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