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DVD Review:
The Sandbaggers Volumes 1 and 2
By Michael Patrick Sullivan


And in the getting-around-to-things department...a fresh new review of year-old DVDís of a twenty-plus-year old series.

The Sandbaggers was a British-produced one hour drama that ran initially in the late seventies. It was an espionage drama set within the foreign intelligence and special operations division of the British government. It was written with tight plotting, unique characterization and crisp dialogue that put nearly any American television show of the time to shame.

Let me revise that.

It puts nearly any television show, anywhere, and at anytime, to shame.

In comparing it to popular programs familiar to Americans today, it would stand as a cross between the West Wing, Alias or The Agency, and Homicide: Life on the Street. Comparing it or calling it a crossbreed would be extremely unfair as it is truly a unique animal.

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In 2001, this unique animal was released upon an unsuspecting public and, as it did in airings on PBS stations in the eighties and early-nineties, it acts like a sleeper agent, slowly corrupting itís targets. In DVD sets comprising the first two of the three seasons of The Sandbaggers, one is afforded a look at a program unlike any other...and an inspirational one to boot.

Those who read QUEEN & COUNTRY regularly may know that writer Greg Rucka cites the show as a direct antecedent to his book and one neednít look too deep to find the similarities.

Both depict the put-upon head of the SIS and his elite troika of special operatives as they fight governmental beauracracy, foreign powers and occasionally one another. If you like Queen and Country, you owe yourself The Sandbaggers as itís as close as youíre going to get to see it living color as youíre going to get...for now.

Be warned, these programs are not up to the technical brilliance of even home movies that can be produced on an iMac. The Sandbaggers was made on a shoestring budget and feature the trademark film/tape dichotomy of so many British television shows like Doctor Who, Blakeís Seven and Monty Python. To clarify: exteriors were typically shot on grainy 16mm film while interiors were shot on videotape so clear that it often helped the viewer realize that the room all the actor were standing in could likely be pushed down by a seven-year old with a serious skateboarding injury.

If you canít get past that to see through to the important things, like writing and acting, then I pity you, I pity you as though you were the head of the Norwegian Secret Service.

The acting is top drawer, especially from Ray Marsden who realistically portrays the ĎD-Opsí Neil Burnside. A man so into his career that his social skills have nearly vanished. Problematic when he falls for the first female agent in his section (whose not necessarily put-together right herself).

The program stays exciting when one realizes that no one in the show is safe. Anyone can die at any time and for any reason.

For those into the Authority-style of doing things, The Sandbaggers may lead you down a new road. While Jenny Sparks and crew know you have to break a few eggs in order to make a city-sized omelet, Burnside and crew also know that you canít always get things done clean or fair.

The DVDís are not as devoid of extras as one might think for an obscure foreign TV show. There is a rundown of intelligence abbreviations, an episode guide and stills gallery.

There is also a biography of Sandbaggers creator Ian MacIntosh (who wrote every episode long before the likes of J. Michael Straczynski or Aaron Sorkin, (Fans of both would do well to check out Sandbaggers as well)). His life is interesting reading in and of itself.

Those who may have caught The Sandbaggers before should take note that this seat features the episode ĎSpecial Relationship,í which was often omitted from virtually any method of seeing The Sandbaggers before this set was released.

On the old an venerated Slushies scale: 5/5.

Without a doubt. Now get on your bike and get Ďem!

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