Sleepers (1991)

This is my first recommendation on this blog, not because it would be anywhere near my top 10, but because it is something I watched quite recently:

Confusingly, imdb lists Sleepers as a TV series, with only one season, consisting of 4 episodes of just under 55 minutes. This, however, is the very definition of a mini-series, and that is exactly what this is.

The idea for this comedy drama mini-series grew out of the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The premise is that Moscow suddenly discovers it has “mislaid” some of its sleeper agents in Britain and has no idea who or where they are and what they are doing.
That is as far as the plot goes. The rest is funny, but full of minor plot wholes and all in all not very convincing story-wise. The over-reaching frame narrative and the “big reveal” at the end were also rather weak.
For the most part this series is an assortment of stock characters and unsubtle national stereotypes. It is a satire, and as is usually the case with satires, it is not particularly nuanced whenever humour is to be derived from prejudices. We have typical KGB, typical CIA, and typical MI-5 characters, a typical Church of England vicar, etc.
That said, the humour and the dialogue are quite good, though often not as sharp and witty as may have been possible.

The strength of this series lies in its actors. The two lead characters are very well written (they are basically the only fleshed-out characters in the whole series), and Nigel Havers and Warren Clarke do an excellent job portraying them. They pretty much are these characters.
All the other actors are also doing excellent jobs for the main part. Some might be accused of overacting, but how can you blame them when these minor characters are written as such exaggerated stereotypes. Joanna Kanska was one of the very few prominent cast members that did not convince me.
The cast is, for the most part, an assembly of the crème de la crème of “that guy” actors:
Christopher Rozycki, Richard Huw, Alan David, William Chubb, Angus MacInnes, Ricco Ross, Richard Durden ….
One or two names might stick out, such as those of David Calder or of the late Michael Gough, but for the most part, none of these names will mean anything to you, yet when you see the faces on screen you immediately recognise them as some of the most talented supporting actors of their generation.
Special mention should go to Barbara Young for playing the nastiest mother-in-law in the history of television.

Although calling this series a “gem” is a bit of a stretch, it certainly is “hidden” as very few people even know of this shows existence.
All in all, this is an enjoyable comedy drama series, well worth watching, even if it were only for the acting alone. Just don’t expect a master piece. I think this series will be especially enjoyable for people who have experienced the late Cold War and the wobbly adjustment period that followed its end. British viewers might also enjoy one or two references to 1966.

This series has been out on DVD in Region Code 2 as well as in Region Code 1 box sets. I picked up a used box set quite cheaply, and suggest you do the same. This series, fun as it is, is not worth spending a fortune on; just be patient till an affordable set comes along.

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