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Nyree Dawn Porter,
After leaving Department S, the hedonistic, womanizing dandy Jason King settled down to a full-time career of writing (trashy) Mark Caine novels. He philandered his way around the world, doing research for his stories and tripping over a variety of odd--often verging on surreal--cases, usually involving beautiful women. He was occasionally blackmailed into working for British Intelligence under the threat of being arrested for unpaid back taxes. Written by
Marg Baskin <email@example.com>
I enjoyed Department S when I discovered it on DVD, so decided to give its spin-off series a try, even knowing going in that it was not as well-regarded. I very quickly found out why!
What made Jason King (the character) work in Department S was that he had two relatively normal sidekicks - who appear here only in the briefest of stock footage flashbacks in one single episode - to bounce off, making him seem like an eccentric in a more or less everyday world. Given his own series and shorn of anyone to keep him in check, however, Jason becomes absolutely ludicrous, a camp comic-book creation with barely even one toe in reality. That he's at all bearable to watch is entirely down to Peter Wyngarde's charm, as the scripts frequently make him casually sexist and even racist in a cringeworthy 1970s way. (One episode actually has him say "Ah so, dlagon rady" to a Chinese woman... a Chinese woman played by a British actress in yellowface and false eyelids. Horrible!)
The stories are also bottom-of-the-barrel stuff. Since he's no longer part of a law enforcement agency, every contrivance imaginable is needed to force Jason into the plots. He unwittingly uses a codeword meant to identify an arms dealer. He's hypnotised. He's mistaken for a hit-man because he's carrying a rose. He picks up a hitch-hiker involved in a crime. He's impersonated (twice). He's blackmailed by MI6 (several times). He's kidnapped (repeatedly). In the laziest example, he just so happens to know *three* different people - from different countries - who are trying to obtain a stolen statue, none of whom have any connection to each other.
The scripts are not the only thing that were cheap. To pay for location shooting in Europe (Jason visits Paris, Hamburg, Vienna, Venice and other cities - mostly wandering around in front of famous landmarks just to prove that yes, they really sent their leading actor there for the day) the show was shot on 16mm film rather than ITC's usual 35mm, and it looks terrible. 16mm can be decent quality - look at the restored DVDs of the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who - but here everything is muddy and astonishingly grainy. The same sets appear over and over (every rich character seems to share a room with a blue domed ceiling), as do even cars. There's a silver Vauxhall Viva that follows Jason to almost every country he visits!
Amazingly, a halfway-decent story does occasionally manage to force its way through the dross; 'As Easy As ABC' sees two criminals using the plot of one of Jason's own novels to carry out a robbery and frame him for it, 'To Russia With Panache' plays like a lost Department S script as Jason investigates a bizarre murder in the Kremlin, and 'Wanna Buy A Television Series?' amusingly bites the hand that feeds it by ridiculing the same US TV networks that ITC depended upon to fund its shows. But most of the episodes are empty, silly and, worst of all, *boring* nonsense that not even Wyngarde's charisma can save.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful.
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