It says a lot about Odyssey that Anna Friel playing a battle-hardened US Special Forces commando isn’t the most unbelievable thing about it.

Writer-director Peter Horton’s adrenaline-pumped conspiracy thriller could scarcely be more zeitgeisty, taking in the War on Terror, corporate crime, state corruption, the Occupy movement, hackers, drones and the Kardashians. (Okay, maybe not the last one. Or not yet, anyway.)

Friel plays Sergeant Odelle Ballard, whose unit captures one of Al Qaeda’s big players in the deserts of North Africa. Shortly afterwards, the platoon is attacked by a private militia, but not before Odelle discovers computer files suggesting a major US corporation is bankrolling the jihadists. ‘That’s what I love about Al Qaeda,’ she smirks. ‘They keep such accurate records.’ Presumably they file all their tax returns on time, too.

Odelle is declared MIA, presumed dead, despite having sent an SOS email from her iPhone moments before being captured by the enemy. (Turns out the Sahara has better wifi coverage than most British town centres.) Meanwhile, in New York, a ragged alliance of anti-capitalists, conspiracy nuts and the world’s most compassionate corporate litigator begin to comprehend the scale of the military-industrial cover-up they’ve stumbled across. Cue lots of men in suits talking urgently about ‘the DA’s office’. All American TV dramas are legally obliged to mention the DA’s office at least 12 times an hour. I’m still not entirely sure what it is.

The dialogue is as subtle as a roadside bomb. ‘Is it legal?’ the conspiracy nut’s mom asks as he hacks into the US military’s mail server. ‘No,’ he replies, ‘but if the government is doing what I think it’s doing, it’s justified!’ That’s the height of subtlety, though, compared to the reams of plot info-dump delivered by the fake TV news anchors on stations with names like Channel WXNE 3.

Odyssey was savaged by critics when it aired in the States a few months back, but I have to say I found the first episode pretty exciting, in a dumb sort of way. Imagine Homeland reinvented as an airport novel – part Andy McNabb, part Tom Clancy, with Beth Jordache instead of Jack Ryan. Sounds crazy, right? But I swear I saw it with my own eyes.


TV extra:


Not Safe For Work

All workplace comedies inevitably face being compared with The Office. Not Safe For Work, in which a bunch of civil servants are relocated from London to Northampton (‘So good they… named it’), dodges the issue by styling itself as a comedy drama. In truth, it’s way too broad for that, but it’s worth watching for a typically feisty turn from Fresh Meat’s terrific Zawe Ashton as Katherine, a smart but slightly disastrous divorcee with the sweariest turn of phrase since Malcolm Tucker. So probably not safe for watching with your nan, either.


Child Genius

There’s something a little sad about Child Genius, the documentary following Britain’s brightest young brains through a contest to be crowned Poindexter of the Year (or something). David passed his A-level maths at 10, but disappointed his dad because he only got a C. Loser. Thomas, 12, is obsessed by the financial markets, so will probably bankrupt the country one day. They’re not all geniuses, though: in the general knowledge round, one kid answered the question ‘Which English king was known as the Lionheart?’ with ‘David Cameron’. He wishes.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, July 2, 2015

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