Spy TV shows, by far, are some of the most popular series to air on television. The mix of government secrecy and high adventure is a fantastic background to see characters fight the forces of evil in spectacular fashion. Shows in the #spy genre have ranged in tone from slapstick (Man from U.N.C.L.E and Get Smart) to ultra violent (24, 24: Legacy) and the change in tone normally follows a shift in what people enjoy watching. The 2000s were a great time to be a spy show fan, as there were many on the air. This decade was a mix of realistic violence, intrigue and flat-out retro comedy. Suffice it to say, over the last decade there have been many great spy series, but for the sake of this list, we will be looking at five of the greatest '00s spy shows that defined a decade of television.
Everyone has heard of the TV show 24 and its hero, Jack Bauer. This was a unique show in which each season took place in a 24-hour period. This program came out soon after 9/11 and it is fascinating to see the politics and attitudes of that time influence the show. It was also well known for featuring a chilling and dangerous rogue’s gallery of villains that were very diversified, from Muslim extremists to rouge spies.
The show was designed as a #thriller and made good use of shootouts, car chases and hacking. 24 ran for eight seasons from 2001 to 2010 and concluded its run in a 2014 miniseries. This is a rollicking fun series and is perfect for today’s culture of binge watching. If you enjoy action and thrilling narratives, then check out 24.
Spooks (or MI-5 as it was called in the US) was a British spy show that ran from 2002–2011 and returned as a film continuation in 2015. The program showcased the daily lives and trials of the spies of the British agency, MI-5, and featured a revolving cast that had characters enter, exit and return all throughout the series. The series, like 24, was born from the post-9/11 world but was unique in how it showed its agents and the means to fight terrorism (for example, none of the agents carry guns in the first few seasons).
This spy thriller was interesting as it showed the war on terror from the view of a foreign power. #Spooks had very original stories and was known for having dramatic plot twists and character deaths. The show is very good and it is interesting to see many famous faces appear when they were still young in their careers.
#Alias was a sci-fi/espionage show that ran from 2001 to 2006 and starred Jennifer Garner, Ron Rifkin and Michael Vartan. The series was created by J.J Abrams and revolved around the tale of double agent, Sydney Bristow, trying to take down an evil spy agency (SD-6) for the CIA. The show started off being a straightforward spy thriller and showcased rival agencies fighting each other. It had terrific action and fun stories.
#JenniferGarner was perfectly cast as the sexy and dangerous, Sydney Bristow, and Ron Rikin gave a chilling performance as a deranged villain who honestly cared for Bristow but was eaten up by madness. The TV program in its later seasons began to embrace a sci-fi plot that involved an ancient cult and technology that governments were searching for. While it sounds strange, the plots were well done and, in the end, told a cohesive and engaging narrative. If you enjoy fun action and also like science fiction, then check out this original show.
Chuck was an espionage/comedy series that ran from 2007–2012. It starred Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski as spies working for the US Government. The show was primarily a comedy program that was similar to Get Smart and Man from U.N.C.L.E. It followed Levi as Chuck Bartowski, a computer tech at a Best Buy stand, who gets all of the United States spy secrets downloaded into his brain. The show spends the next five seasons exploring his various adventures with his CIA and NSA handlers. The comedy is supremely entertaining and very funny, as it balances Chuck's daily life at the "Buy More" as well as his spy missions. The story is very original and the action exciting and humorous. If you enjoy comedy and action mixed with some slapstick, then you will love #Chuck.
1. 'Burn Notice'
#BurnNotice was a show created by Matt Nix that aired on USA from 2007 to 2013. It followed the adventures of Michael Weston (who use to be a spy) after he is burned by the CIA and left in Miami. He's joined by his best friend, Sam Axe, and on-again off-again girlfriend (and weapons dealer) Fiona. The show revolved around Weston’s quest to find the organization who burned him and do odd jobs around Miami helping people in need.
What makes this series so fun is its diversity of tone. The show is very dramatic but also had a healthy dose of humor mixed in. It also utilizes a combo of serial and procedural storytelling; each episode is procedural but also moves the main story along. The use of procedural storytelling is not just used as filler, as each chapter is used to develop the main characters and challenge them morally, physically and emotionally. At the series finale you really feel you know the characters, and it honestly felt like I was saying goodbye to longtime friends. If you enjoy TV shows such as Mission Impossible, MacGyver or Miami Vice you will love this program.
The Future Of Spy TV
As we move through the second decade of the 2000s, there seems to be a lack of good spy shows in the pipeline. While there are a few that are currently airing (Homeland, 24: Legacy), hopefully in the next few years more great spy shows like the ones listed above can be produced.
Just turning on the news on any given day will show that there is no shortage of stories from which to draw inspiration for thrilling spy stories. Perhaps fans of the genre can once again grab their invisible ink, grappling gun and supercomputer to join the likes of Chuck and Michael Weston to fight the nefarious forces that try to thwart our heroes.
Do you agree with this list? What are your favorite spy shows from the last decade? Let us know in the comments below!