Bringing Reality to the Spy Genre: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (TV Showcase #11)

Alright, it’s time for a confession: I’d heard about this show, and when I saw it was only seven episodes, I thought, why not try it. Unfortunately, I was not prepared for the extreme complexity in the story, and I didn’t pay super-close attention, so I got lost a couple of episodes in. However, with help of the Internet, I have refreshed myself of the main points of the story. There’s still something I wanted to bring up about this show, though, that I noticed while watching it. So, here’s what I think about “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”.

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (TTSS for short) was a British miniseries that aired in 1979 based off a book of the same name. The series was about retired spy George Smiley (played by Alec Guinness, who was best known as Obi-Wan Kanobi in Star Wars), who is secretly informed that one of the top four British intelligence officers is a Soviet spy. But since one of them is the impostor, none of them can know that such information has leaked out. So Smiley temporarily comes out of retirement in order to nail the spy in the Circus, which is what British Intelligence had codenamed themselves.

While this series was very involved and increasingly complex, what I most noticed about it was how real it made the story feel. Oftentimes, an audience can think of spies in terms of the fantastic, like in cases of “Get Smart”, “The Man From UNCLE”, “The Avengers”, or any of the James Bond films. But TTSS wasn’t like that; there were no crazy futuristic gadgets, and there weren’t comical codenames for absolutely everything. The show took place in different parts of the world, in dark alleyways and poorly-lit buildings. The characters went to odd places that aren’t ideal for a TV show’s set, but it made the show seem so much more real. Add to that the fact that full conversations in other languages were done without any sort of subtitle or even translation, and now there’s a spy show with a grasp on reality. It made the places it portrayed look like spy work might actually happen there. And that’s probably how a spy show should be.

So, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” was an intriguing story, and it was completely within the realm of reality, which made it stand out among others in the spy genre. What do you think?

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