She Spies: The Complete First Season Review
“They’re three career criminal girls with one shot at freedom; now they’re working for the feds who put them away. These are the women of ‘She Spies’ – bad girls gone good.”
Meet Cassie (Natasha Henstridge), D.D. (Kristen Miller) and Shane (Natashia Williams) – three beautiful and multi-talented women who used to steal, extort and hack into some of the most seemingly unhackable places on Earth, but now they work for a “clandestine government organisation trying to rid the world of evil doers.” Their boss is Jack (Carlos Jacott). His job is to see to it that the girls behave themselves around the clock and successfully pull off their missions without any hitches – punishment being that if they fail at their task they’ll be winged straight back to prison. By using their honed skills and witty retorts the girls must see to it that all known terrorists, assassins and good ol’ fashioned bad guys never repeat their naughty sins again.
She Spies hit U.S. screens in 2002 on NBC, as a mid-season replacement for some poor show that got canned. Following in the wake of the popular Charlie’s Angels feature films it certainly should have been easily marketable. However the show was dropped after just three episodes and was then placed into syndication; it then got noticed and was successful enough to be granted a second season. It’s clear that the series takes its inspiration from a number of sources and should not in any way be considered a mere rip off of Charlie’s Angels or Pamela Anderson’s far more successful V.I.P.; while the blueprints behind it are a given She Spies takes the premise in its own direction. This is a series that does not take itself the least bit seriously; its astute in everything it tackles, its shameless in getting away with having its three leads actresses wear as little as possible for a syndicated show, to which they seem all too happy in doing so, and it takes pot shots at just about every form of entertainment, including itself and Hollywood in general, not to mention politics, network television, models or America being rubbish at several things. Indeed She Spies picks all too easy, and obvious targets but it always winks at its subject matter and reminds us that it’s just a show.
Of course one could easily argue the feminist debate when it comes to how these women are depicted on screen. Are the writers even trying to project three self assertive women in a politically correct light? While the women of She Spies are indeed independent to some degree they are all too often at the mercy of their boss Jack, who in one episode is self parodied as a pimp (in complete get-up) for them and seems to show the writers hitting back against the series’ most hard-nosed critics. In addition the girls are smart, but they carry with them tendencies that allow them to screw up on several occasions, bicker a lot and so forth. Granted the series does indeed have its share of female viewers, so is there role model material here, or do viewers of this material simply not care? That’s not for me to say. Do I care? Not really. The actresses involved are certainly intelligent enough to make up their minds as to whether or not these types of characters do them justice, and when it comes down to it why shouldn’t they flaunt their assets? But I’m straying somewhat, suffice it to say that it’s easy to take She Spies the wrong way.
More importantly the series doesn’t ever kid itself; its point is to provide the viewer with undemanding fun. Forget convoluted plots and engaging storylines, these come second in the world of She Spies. The writers clearly have little interest in their plotlines, because all too often they rehash old ones and then say “Didn’t we do this last week?” It’s this kind of mentality that threatens to drag down She Spies, because no matter how self referential it gets in order to provide laughs it doesn’t stop the occasional groan from time to time, and non is more worse than seeing episodes throw in flashback pieces from previous outings, as if to suggest that the writers didn’t write enough for that particular week’s script. Just about every episode of She Spies relies on a silly or downright predictable twist, carrying the philosophy of “the suspect is the least likely person to suspect”. But it’s with relief that while the plot developments don’t go beyond kidnapper of the week the comradery between the four leads is more than engaging. Indeed had it not been for perfect casting I’m not sure it would have been nearly as worthwhile as it is. Natasha Henstridge, Kristen Miller, Natashia Williams and Carlos Jacott show that a solid chemistry can win out above most things; you can look at hit series such as Moonlighting and easily prove this point. Indeed all the laughs come from their interactions which include bantering, playful belittling and ludicrous set-ups, which are so silly that it is too difficult not to find amusement in them.
That’s not to say that She Spies is a shallow series; it does intend to at least flesh out its primary players during its twenty episode first season run. As such these girls truly develop so that we can sympathise with them, with specific episodes being designed solely for a single character. Everyone here has some kind of dark past; some characters carry more than one secret and in getting to know them these are brought out during certain missions, which admittedly rely on coincidence in order to provide the perfect narrative for them. It’s during these insightful moments that She Spies can turn a little melodramatic, alongside a few heavy handed musical cues. However they can be emotional largely thanks to the committal and acting chops of its cast, which can all too easily be overlooked when we’re seeing blondes running around in cat suits and having ditzy adventures. Likewise Jack has a few personal demons of his own and sure enough these will come into play later on.
The look of She Spies is befitting to its style of comic book caper-ism, capturing its action hero dynamics through an occasional series of multi-panel shots; these usually appear when exposition - which is rather forced on more than one occasion, with a few sly winks in the process - is rallied off between the main characters who are in separate locations. Furthermore the occasional inter cutting during fight scenes expands on the idea that this is almost a cartoon brought to life. Colour is also an important factor here, with its candy coated flavours which gives it something of a retro appeal as if it would have been better suited to Saturday morning TV. The action itself is competent, but suffers from the same thing that most U.S. action series do, and that’s choppy editing. Of course if you’re used to the kind of fight sequences employed by Buffy or Angel then you’ll know what to expect.
She Spies’s irreverent style of humour obviously stems from the same set of rules that The Monkees applied to their successful TV show, that being that there aren’t any. This outlook on things is a largely positive one and I can honestly say that She Spies, though predominantly amusing, does offer some genuine moments of hilarity: the evil doctor, complete with “evil doctor” sang every time he enters the frame in “Poster Girl”, the laughing gas scene in “Ice Man” or the toy aeroplane and airport used for “Learning to Fly”. There is most certainly a charm to She Spies humour and fifty percent of it does rely on visual gags alone and breaking the fourth wall, the rest making up expositional moments or creeping into lengthy conversations. I doubt that everyone will warm to its carefree nature; it’s clear that it really doesn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks and it’s played with its tongue firmly in cheek. You don’t have to “get” the series to enjoy it because there is nothing to get – think of it as being a break from everything else that’s showing on TV. This is the kind of show you don’t want to think about; that you can come home and watch an episode or two to wind down and feel good at the end of the day. In that respect how can you fault its minimalist approach?
The following episode guide comes from MGM’s packaging. They’re wittier than I can manage and they show exactly how aware of itself the series is, so to save time they’re re-printed here.
The First Episode
A former politician-turned-talk-show host faces a sinister assassination plot. Can the Spies protect a…hey, isn’t that Barry Bostwick from The Rocky Horror Picture Show?
The Martini Shot
Cassie poses as a runway model to shake up a Martini-led ring of fashion secret stealers. Beet and cauliflower smoothies play a stirring role, and some folks just like to dress up as furry mammals.
The Spies go after two brothers using a children’s hospital to run a bogus charity scam.
The team must protect a rebellious teenager from anarchist coffee-house plotters. Or do they? Uncover the “fun” in “dysfunctional family”, and get a free history lesson as well.
The Spies go undercover at a singles’ apartment complex to do battle with (drum roll, please) Icelandic spies? Get a case of upload déjà vu, and see what skim milk and skin have in common…besides three letters.
A comedy club that launders money. An assassin who preys on Spies. What’s next? An Elvis-impersonating ventriloquist? A post-modern birthday cake? A musical tribute to accountants? Oh, well, OK.
Three Women and a Baby
The Spies pick up nanny duty when an arms dealer’s baby is left on their doorstep. Hey, is that a rocket launcher in your pocket or are you just…oh, it’s a rocket launcher.
The girls are trapped in their own house by an explosives-happy killer looking for revenge. Tripwires, sensors and bombs…oh, mines!
Spies vs. Spy
The Spies go up against a former team-mate to protect an Ambassador’s daughter on her wedding day.
The woman share fond memories of how they met in prison, while slowly suffering the lethal effects of a poisonous stuffed frog. We’ll spare you the obvious “croak” joke.
When D.D. is accused of being a traitor, will the other Spies bring down their confused compatriot? Will you ever be able to watch The Pirates of Penzance the same way again?
The Girl with the Broken Heart
A case of mistaken identity finds the team at a pharmaceutical conference looking for an international spy who’s engaged to – uh oh – Cassie’s old flame.
You Don’t Know Jack
The Spies face off against the assassin “La Puma.” But he may be closer to them than they know. Much, much closer. You might even say “La Puma is Jack their boss.” OK, that may giving away too much.
Somebody’s selling secrets, and it’s one of the partners in a technology company. Only the timeless art of seduction can determine who the traitor is, unless…
While You Were Out
The Spies must protect a CEO from assassination by a well-funded, well-organised band of lethal secretaries bent on world domination. Sure, it’s a tale as old as time.
Daze of Future Past
When Jack loses his memory in an accident, can he achieve total recall in time to stop a diabolical plot? Is there symbolism behind all those angels? And what’s with the monkey?
International thief Indigo (Brooke Burns) captures Cassie, and the Spies take on a new team-mate to find her. Um, did you hear what we said? Brooke Burns. Do you really need more?
Damsels in De-stress
While unwinding at an official government health spa, the Spies find themselves the target of a(nother) mad bomber. Added bonus! Learn how to crack passwords from a dietician, naturally.
Learning to Fly
What can go wrong on an aeroplane? Let Shane tell you every conceivable possibility as the Spies protect an animal rights activist from the clutches of P.U.T.A. Don’t ask.
We’ll Be Right Back
Love can be cold, but when an old friend wants to cryogenically freeze himself to be with his girlfriend, the Spies suspect foul play. A comedic yet action-packed fight follows in a story-appropriate location.
MGM has put out She Spies on DVD very quickly, and as such this is a bare-bones release. A shame because there have been interviews in the past and it would have been nice to have them included, as would audio commentaries and behind the scenes footage. I’m often disappointed in studios’ lack of desire to fund extras for television shows on DVD. The reason fans clamour for these releases is because they’re obviously going to buy them, so why not make their purchase a little worth while? As it stands we have four discs, two per amaray slim-pack which come housed in a standard slip cover. The design work is hardly awe inspiring but we’ll have to make do with it.
Despite the box listing these episodes as being mastered in High Definition She Spies doesn’t look that great, but then it was always going to be hard to replicate on DVD. The series plays with a lot of different techniques, and you’ll find various lenses and filters being put to use which either add extra grain for several night shots, or diffuse colour levels from time to time. Colours are generally acceptable, though flesh tones can border on being a little too pink at times and there are small bouts of bleeding. There is a slight softness for wider shots, though detail is relatively fine. Edge Enhancement, aliasing and a non-progressive transfer make this a presentation that is likely to disappoint enthusiasts and hard core fans.
An English 5.1 Surround track is all we have for this release, and again it’s a shame that we couldn’t get a 2.0 option, especially taking into account that this isn’t a very good track at all. It’s by no means awful, but it doesn’t do the series any real justice. The rear speakers are hardly given a work out, which suggests that this is a shabby upgrade from the original source. Dialogue is fine, with a few moments being slightly lighter than they should be, while the show’s score is acceptable, lacking in vitality, despite its catchy theme tune.
There are no subtitles available for this release, which is unacceptable these days. Closed Captions can be found, but these often prove to be a major pain in the arse.
D.D.: “No ‘She Spies’ action figures?”
Shane: “Yea, you wind them up and they dare you to find their timeslot”
The writers evidently came up with their scripts rather quickly and were already wise to the inevitability that their show might not be around for long, and who could blame them? So they had as much fun as possible (taking out their critics in the process) and at the end of the day that’s all we want. She Spies is a lot of fun and it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. It’s hard to be overly cynical about the series because it knows what it wants to be – a silly, stupid show that up until the end of the first series ended as gung-ho as it started.