"Sleeper Cell" is a spy thriller for the new phase in post-Sept. 11 television drama. Until now, most series about counterterrorism clung to cartoon ideations of can-do agents and fiendishly efficient terrorists - reflecting, perhaps, an almost childlike hunger for American indomitability at a time when news reports are less reassuring. Even Jack Bauer on Fox's "24" has a comic-book supercompetence to match that of his enemies, brilliant terrorist masterminds intent on bringing the United States to its knees. (If terrorists can be sloppy or lazy, then there really is no excuse for not catching them.)So the cartoonish characters and plots on network TV dramas about counterterrorism are attributable to the viewers' "childlike hunger for American indomitability"? What's the explanation for the cartoonish characters and plots on all the other network TV dramas?
In this series, the F.B.I. is a vast bureaucracy riddled with complacent midlevel agents who carelessly screw up surveillance work and bosses who are as concerned with diverting blame as they are with deterring attacks. Even the terrorist fanatics are killing machines with a human face. Some of them make foolish mistakes, from bragging about a secret operation on the telephone to a relative in the Middle East to panicking when they think they are being followed. Others secretly miss their wives and make weepy phone calls home in the middle of the night.
December 2, 2005
Alessandra Stanley gives us a strong heads-up about a new TV show (on Showtime):