Stingers: articles

Stingers proves that it's still got what it takes

I jumped the gun. I admit it. Channel Nine's new-look Stingers is every bit as good as the previous five series. I still miss Mac, the character played by Anita Hegh, and it has taken a while to grow comfortable with the intensity of the show's new look. But Gary Sweet has grown on me as the undercover unit's new boss. Rebecca Gibney, contrary to my expectations, has fitted into the occasional role of the blonde bombshell lawyer who causes the unit so much angst. And the plots are terrific.

This week's episode, when it emerged that Sweet's character had been mentally ill for years, which explained his antagonistic attitude and his paranoia, was arguably the finest episode in years. His armed rooftop confrontation with series veteran Church (Peter Phelps) was seat-of-the-pants stuff.

In fact, the new Stingers is so good, I wonder why Nine wastes it in a 9.30pm timeslot, particularly one in which it has to contend with three other Melbourne-made shows - Rove [live], Marshall Law and MDA - every week. Stingers wins the contest in Melbourne, although it loses out to Rove nationally (941,156 viewers in the five mainland capital cities last week, compared to Rove's 1,142,850). But I reckon it could do better at 8.30pm, when more viewers are available.

Look at Ten's Law & Order: Criminal Intent, the latest spin-off from the acclaimed Law & Order cop/courtroom series. It exceeded 1.3million viewers nationally last week in its 8.30pm timeslot on Wednesday, and that was up against Seven's softer Blue Heelers (1.5million viewers). In terms of dramatic intensity and, if there is such a word, adultness, I would argue that Stingers and Law & Order: Criminal Intent are on a par. So why not give Stingers a chance in a more accessible timeslot? Saying that it is not suitable for 8.30pm is selling the audience short.

Maybe it will happen next year. Nine has signed up Stingers for a seventh series and extended it to 40 weekly episodes in 2003, the same as Seven's year-round local dramas All Saints and Blue Heelers. That's an enormous vote of confidence in the show. Let's hope the extra workload does not dilute the capacity of all involved to deliver the goods.

The news of the extended Stingers season was one of the first confirmed signings for 2003. The future of Seven's Marshall Law, the ABC's MDA and Ten's White Collar Blue is yet to be decided. It's widely assumed that Nine's Young Lions will not return. The news from the US networks about their new shows, which we will see next year, is equally mixed.

The spin-off from Nine's CSI, CSI: Miami, featuring former NYPD Blue star David Caruso, has been the hit new show of the American 2002-03 season, which began a month ago. We will see it next year on Nine. The other success has been Without a Trace, a series about the FBI missing-persons unit. It stars Anthony LaPaglia. We will see that, too, next year.

But there's bad news for Channel Seven. The successor to Ally McBeal, The Girls' Club, a drama from Ally creator David E. Kelley, has been a ratings disaster and has been taken off air. The good news for Seven, however, is that the new series of 24, which went to air in the US late last week, has been acclaimed by American critics as even better than the first, which is drawing to a close on Seven this month. The new series follows a similar countdown format about efforts to stop the detonation of a nuclear device in Los Angeles.

But back to the present, and my tip for the week's viewing. Don't miss Foyle's War, a new British series set during World War II, beginning tomorrow night at 8.30pm on the ABC. Michael Kitchen is perfect as Christopher Foyle, a detective forbidden by his superiors from joining the war effort. The whodunits in which he gets involved are intriguing. Some might think this slow, even plodding, television, but it is the deliberately slow manner in which each self-contained story unfolds that delivers the tension.

Fans of Columbo and Poirot will love it.

By Ross Warneke
November 07, 2002
The Age