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Sleeper Cell (2005)
Far more than anything I've watched on TV in a long time, this entire series made me uncomfortable and uneasy. It wasn't just the reality of it, though that was unsettling, especially for someone who lives in the LA area and knows a lot of those locations.
But it was the way I was relating to the characters, especially the members of the cell besides Farik. I would find myself agreeing with some of the things they said, or empathizing with them in some other way -- really, just seeing them as human. The show would start taking me down that path, and then utterly ruthlessly snap me back when those same characters did something to remind me of what they are and what they've become. Each time -- as much as I should have expected it -- it came as a shock.
This is a great series, but overall, watching it was a pretty unsettling experience. It forced me to ask a lot of questions I simply don't have the answers for. And I don't think anyone else does, either. The best comparisons to other material would be to the films Traffic and Syriana, but because of the length (10 hours as compared to 2.5) and the focus on just a few characters, the emotional investment in this story was a lot greater.
In terms of what to expect, this is not an easy to digest, fast-paced show -- I think the analogies to 24 are off-base in that respect. Yeah, it has to do with terrorism -- so do Victory at Entebbe and Executive Decision -- but really, it doesn't have much in common with movies and TV shows in that genre. The spiritual roots of this series are in material like Wiseguy (to which there's a nice tip of the hat in episode 5), or Donnie Brasco, about the experience of an undercover agent. If you are expecting lots of things going boom -- well, this might not be what you're looking for.
The performances are top-notch, especially Michael Ealy and Oded Fehr. The entire series has a sense of realism throughout that keeps the tension strong throughout. Just excellent work all around, and Showtime deserves serious kudos for upping the quality of its original offerings with a series like this.
Marco Polo (1982)
They don't make them like this anymore...
...and it's a true shame this wonderful miniseries hasn't been reissued on DVD or even on video. I was fortunate enough to record it the one time it repeated on NBC (in 1984), and I recently transferred that copy to SVHS in an attempt to preserve it a bit longer. I really hope some day the studios will get their acts together and give this wonderful miniseries the legacy it deserves: on DVD.