Recently I’ve been reacquainting myself with some classic television, an endeavor made easier by having both an excellent library system and finally getting a Netflix account.
One of the genres I love in particular is the secret agent show. The 60’s were the golden era for spies on television and in movies, before my time but syndication and the birth of Nick at Night were boons for me. I watched them all, but preferred the “realistic” shows to the fantastical ones. So while I loved The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I would choose something like Mission: Impossible if given the choice.
Or to put it in James Bond terms, I’ll pick From Russia with Love over Moonraker.
One of the shows that I remember liking in particular was I Spy, a show that to my young mind fully justified the existence of Nick at Night. However over the years the series faded from my memory. While other shows would pop up in remakes or on TV, I Spy dropped out of the spotlight. I vaguely remember the I Spy Returns TV movie from the 90’s and the less said about the 2002 movie atrocity with Owen Wilson and Eddie Murphy, the better. The classic show seemed to have slipped into obscurity.
I Spy first aired in 1965 and ran for three seasons, starring Robert Kulp and Bill Cosby as agents Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott who worked as secret agents for the US government. For their cover, Robinson was a world class tennis player and playboy while Scott was his coach and partner. The pair had adventures all over the world, including sites in Europe, Japan, and Hong Kong. The stories were well written, grounded in an almost noir sensibility, and loved to throw in a good plot twist or two. There were murders, femme fatales, traitors, and double agents galore. The show also had a good sense of humor, sometimes of the gallows variety, and the banter between Robinson and Scott was that of old friends who’ve have been under the gun more times than they could count.
The show was well received, with awards going to several of the cast and writing. It was also historically significant, being the first TV drama to cast an African-American in a starring role. Cosby’s Scott was in all ways an equal partner to Kulp’s Robinson, a fact that led to the show being banned by some TV stations in the American south.
It’s always a risk taking a fresh look at a show you haven’t seen since you were a kid, but I’m pleased to say that I Spy holds up. Yes, the material is dated and some of the portrayals of foreigners, particularly Asians, are as stereotypical as you’d expect from a 60’s show. Thankfully, as a rule, these aren’t played for laughs (at least that I’ve come across so far).
Those issues aside the writing is strong, the settings are vibrant, and the acting is excellent. If you’re a fan of secret agents, then I Spy is one you should check out.
I Spy was released on DVD in 2008 and is also available on Hulu.com.
It also has a swinging 60’s theme!
Man, I wish I could look that cool when lighting a fuze.
Not.. that I toss bombs or anything.
Hello NSA. Please don’t hurt me.