Cinemax explodes into original programming with “Strike Back”

By Stacey Harrison

Along with the announcement that Cinemax would be venturing into original programming came the snickers and speculation that the resulting shows would be in the vein of the network’s reputation for late-night adult fare. In other words, Skinemax with explosions.

As the first show out of the gate, Strike Back, which premieres Friday night, doesn’t do much to counter that assumption, although the acting and production values are admittedly a lot better than your average Deviant Desires or Sinful Temptations. But the “high octane entertainment” banner the network is going for — with this and the currently in-production series adaptation of The Transporter — is in full effect, as Strike Back cuts a merciless path through its characters and storylines, with absolutely no one coming off as untouchable. Seriously, don’t get too attached to some of these characters, because before you know it they’ll take a bullet in the head or have a bomb go off while it’s strapped to their chest.

Featuring a cast of largely unknown actors — unless you happen to be familiar with the likes of Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester — the series follows a disgraced former U.S. Special Forces operative (Stapleton), who teams with a secret British military unit to fight international terrorists. Stapleton and costar Winchester both ooze machismo, but thankfully they also come across as having something going on upstairs as well. These aren’t quite the greased-up, muscle-bound action heroes of the ’80s as much as a pair of rogues who possess the rakish charm of Bruce Willis and the admirable but not gaudy musculature of Harrison Ford.

There are plenty of extreme moments in Strike Back, both in and out of the bedroom, and the sheer audaciousness of some of the scenes — I’m thinking in particular of when one of the heroes literally catches an armed warhead just before it touches the ground — will make you shake your head and smile.

It’s exciting. It’s ridiculous. It’s perfect summer entertainment.

Photo: Credit: Liam Daniel