TV: Pine Gap (Season 1)

Australia’s Pine Gap is the kind of spy show I would have utterly fallen in love with—about fifteen years ago. Alas, in the modern TV landscape, it feels rather second rate. Fortunately, it’s my kind of second rate, not terribly long, and pushes into unfamiliar genre territory, so my inner spy-fi completist was able to enjoy it in a casual manner.

Pine Gap revolves around an allied joint defense facility in the Australian outback, where a mixed outfit of U.S. and Australian intelligence officers control a vast network of spy satellites that cover the Asian theater. Gus Thompson (Parker Sawyers) is the mission director for a team of intelligence analysts who work together to assess incoming satellite data in real-time—a job that places him in the crucial position when a controversial drone strike needs to be authorized. Gus’s decision has unexpected political consequences, heating up tensions between the American and Australian brass at the facility. But tensions get even higher when introverted tech genius Moses (Mark Leonard Winter) discovers intrusive malware on the site’s air-gapped servers, suggesting one of his teammates may be a mole.

The set-up is promising: a workplace drama with an intelligence world backdrop, set in the high-stakes spy nerve center of an important international alliance. Imagine a scaled-back 24, focused more strictly on the dark corridors of CTU, or MI-5/Spooks if it never left the Grid. I always enjoyed the backhall political maneuverings on those shows, and Pine Gap has a similar vibe. Unfortunately, it fails to make the work look or sound interesting; the ops room scenes deliver crucial exposition in a flat, distancing way that undercuts urgency. Part of the problem may be the character roster, which is painfully generic. (A few exceptions—Stephen Curry, Jacqueline McKenzie, Sachin Joab, and Edwina Wren—bring quirks and nuance to their supporting roles.) It doesn’t help that the dialogue often feels stilted and mechanistic coming out of their mouths.

On the other hand, it’s a beautifully shot show, taking full advantage of its remote location scenery with stunning footage of the outback. The small town that supports the base, Alice Springs, is something of a character in its own right: an unlikely but unique hotbed of international intrigue. It’s also a nice change of pace to see a spy series focused on the Asia-Pacific theater. I’d be more enthusiastic about the show if it had a more energy and personality, but it’s structurally solid, at least, and the spy aficionado in me found certain elements worth the watch.

 

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