As we're reminded most recently by Gracepoint, Fox's so-so remake of the brilliant mystery series Broadchurch (shown here on BBC America), the British seem to have a knack for executing certain genres with more sophisticated aplomb. That includes the adult spy thriller, of which BBC America's six-part The Game (Wednesday, 10/9c) is an especially taut specimen.
This suspenseful treat from Toby Whithouse (creator of the original and superior Being Human) revisits the Cold War in 1972 at its iciest and most treacherous. The Game honors the tradition of John le Carré in its meticulous orchestration of a covert operation, pitting a not-entirely-harmonious team of MI5 spies against a diabolical Soviet network of sleeper agents embedded in all levels of London society.
The quasi-hero of the story is young Joe Lambe (the soulfully charismatic Tom Hughes), scarred by romantic tragedy and whose loyalty to the mission is suspect as a result of his obsessive vendetta against a mysterious assassin code-named "Odin." But Joe's autocratic MI5 boss, known only as "Daddy" (Brian Cox, mischievously inscrutable), must trust someone to debrief the Russian defector who is the conduit to the traitors in our midst and who may hold the key to a plot called "Operation Glass." So Joe's his guy, described by Daddy as "a man of obscure and formidable talents."
Everyone on Daddy's team has some sort of Achilles heel, the most fascinating example being the ambitious Bobby Waterhouse (Paul Ritter), who's also got a serious Mommy issue. Bobby's tony connections helped land him a position as head of counter-intelligence, but his closeted homosexuality during this era makes him a vulnerable liability. Hectored at home by a monstrous harpy of a mother (the sensational Judy Parfitt), Bobby is advised by Daddy that, "Work can only ever be a mistress. Mistresses are ravenous, but a wife puts the world in perspective. Makes a fellow grounded." This is a mission of self-denial that may defeat even this seasoned, cynical spy.
Brooding in tone yet laced with mordant wit and tinged with sinister inference, The Game keeps us wondering what the Russian sleepers' end game might be. Having seen only the first half of the series in advance, I can only say that unraveling that mystery is so far darkly compelling fun.
Elsewhere on Wednesday ...
ABC's terrific family-comedy lineup is taking a week off, as is soapy guilty pleasure Nashville — although celebrating the music of Nashville is very much the point of the 48th Annual CMA Awards (8/7c), live from the Bridgestone Arena, with Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood hosting for the seventh consecutive year. Country music's top acts, including recent 60 Minutes profile subject Blake Shelton (performing with Ashley Monroe), will take the stage, with a few interesting crossover duets: Ariana Grande joining Little Big Town, and Meghan Trainor teaming with Miranda Lambert. Don't be surprised if some of the Nashville cast turns up as presenters or in audience cut-aways. That kind of exposure could only help the struggling melodrama.
Looks like the merge is happening on CBS's Survivor (8/7c), which should create some interesting fallout given how many "Blood and Water" couples are still intact. ... How often do you hear the words "uplifting" and "reality show" in the same sentence? Oxygen's Fix My Choir (10/9c) aims to raise the roof, as gospel star Deitrick Haddon (Preachers of L.A.) and Destiny's Child diva Michelle Williams visit churches to inspire struggling choirs on how to get their harmony back. First stop: New Orleans, where the prize-winning Harmonistic Praise Crusade is in shambles, thanks to clashing egos creating something less than a joyful noise.
Welcome back: NYPD Blue's Charlotte Ross guests on The CW's Arrow (8/7c) as Felicity's mother, whose surprise arrival comes on the heels of a destructive cyber attack on Starling City. Giving us even more insight into Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), whose visit last week to The Flash was so enjoyable, Nolan Funk (Awkward) also guests as her ex-boyfriend. ... The irrepressible Terrance and Phillip return to Comedy Central's South Park (10/9c), this time as stars of an addictive mobile app. Obviously, NSFW.