When the action-packed military drama Strike Back makes its triumphant return to Cinemax after more than two years away and with an all-new cast in tow, it will be as if almost nothing has changed.
Although Sgts. Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) and Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and their playful banter in high-stakes situations are long gone, having ridden off into the sunset following their final mission in 2015, the new season wastes little time introducing viewers to a new team of elite soldiers who ensure the now-familiar themes and adrenaline-fueled excitement of Strike Back remain firmly in place as Cinemax makes a strong return to its action roots.
The 10-episode new season, premiering Friday at 10 p.m., marks the third iteration of the action drama since it first debuted across the pond in 2010. It is the sixth season overall and the fifth at Cinemax; the American pay-cable network came on board to co-produce the series with the U.K.'s Sky after the show's six-episode first season, which was based on the novel of the same name by former soldier Chris Ryan and starred Richard Armitage and a pre-The Walking Dead Andrew Lincoln.
In the wake of the show's second revamp, which is charged with launching Cinemax's rebooted action lineup, everyone involved seems to know what they're doing. The result is yet another visually stunning but intense chapter of a show that attempts to rise above what's expected of it by following a proven formula that regularly delivers thrilling action sequences on par with many feature films. Although it has yet to reach the same heights as its previous iteration, which despite an early reliance on gratuitous sex and nudity eventually revealed itself to have hidden depths via fully-formed characters, personal narratives, and complex relationships that grounded the action, the series still has plenty of time to find that groove.
However, there is at least one major difference between this version of Strike Back and previous iterations: the supporting cast members aren't nearly as expendable as they once were. Instead of a two-man team leading the charge, the show utilizes a core team of four in the field, but it's rather obvious that writer Jack Lothian has leaned on Scott and Stonebridge's characters in building this new team.
British actor Warren Brown follows in the latter's footsteps as Sgt. Thomas "Mac" McAllister, a British soldier with a personal vendetta against terrorist Omair Idrisi (Don Hany), whose escape during a prison transfer kicks off the season's main mission. McAllister is a little more headstrong than Stonebridge often was, but he still manages to get the job done while still being rather personable. Meanwhile, Australian actor Daniel MacPherson easily steps into the role of Samuel Wyatt, an American soldier who doesn't play by the rules — or well with others — which by default makes him the show's version of the wisecracking Scott. They share the same amount of camaraderie at the outset that Scott and Stonebridge did — which is to say they're not exactly friendly yet, with McAllister going so far as to stab Wyatt during an undercover mission — but there is a familiar banter that points toward a burgeoning bromance one can only hope will be as fondly remembered as the one that sprung up between Scott and Stonebridge.
Rounding out the rest of the team is Roxanne McKee as Captain Natalie Reynolds, a competent leader from a military family who's as disarming in battle as she is capable outside of it, and Alin Sumarwata as the blunt but badass Lance Corporal Gracie Novin, a weapons expert who easily fills any role required of her. An exceptional hallway fight sequence midway through the season, in which Sumarwata is dressed in an evening gown, puts her squarely in the position of being the show's breakout performance. They all report to Nina Sosanya's Colonel Donovan, who unfortunately has yet to reveal herself to be the kind of dynamic leader we've seen the show have before, but again, there's still some time to hopefully change that.
The new season, which is never short on the show's trademark humor, once again travels across North Africa, Europe, and the Middle East as the newly-formed team chases down Idrisi and his British-born wife Jane Lowry (Katherine Kelly) while uncovering a growing network of criminal activity and taking out various terrorists along the way. The serialized narrative, which breaks up the action into smaller missions within a larger story, is a return to form for HBO-owned Cinemax. The network previously attempted to move away from the action-dominated works that helped to launch it as a home for scripted programming, including Banshee, a narratively ambitious drama also notable for its action and fight sequences. But although the network found critical success with Steven Soderbergh's impressive period drama The Knick, recent shows like the engrossing Vietnam-era Quarry ultimately failed to take off with viewers. As a result, in December 2016, Cinemax decided to return to its bread and butter in a refocused programming strategy that once again focused on co-producing action dramas and thrillers.
It's a smart move for the network, which finds ways to consistently deliver high-caliber, feature film-level action sequences not found anywhere else on TV. And if Cinemax is going to reboot, there's no better place to start than with the series that's proved time and again to be better than it probably ever should have been.
Strike Back airs Fridays at 10/9c on Cinemax.