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Thursday, April 30, 2015

'Sleepers' CS: 1991 Comic British Take on FX's "The Americans'

[Editor's Note: This DVD set from Australia will not play in a standard U.S. DVD player; you must have a (well worth it) region-free player.]

Awesome Australian DVD distributors Madman Entertainment releasing the equally awesome 1991 BBC political farce Britcom "Sleepers" provides a great alternative to the expensive discontinued U.S. and U.K. sets of this hilarious four-episode series that will make you glasnost in your pants. Anyone who remembers the Cold War and the period following the collapse of the Soviet Union or simply is a student of those eras will thoroughly enjoy this show.

"Sleepers" opens "now-ish" in Moscow with KGB officials investigating a previously sealed room in the Kremlin. Two highly apparent aspects of the chamber are that it recreates various settings in 1960s England and that it has been sealed for quite some time. The purpose of the room is a mystery that is solved in the "must-see" series finale.

The ensuing investigation fairly soon reveals that the operation that the room supports involves sending KGB agents Sergei and Vladimir to the U.K. to infiltrate British society for an unknown (but presumably nefarious) objective. This discovery results in sending no-nonsense Natasha Fatale-like KGB major Nina Grishina on the trail of those titular sleeper agents.

Meanwhile back in the U.K., an incident related to the aforementioned investigation prompts Vladimir, now trade-union leader Albert, to contact Sergei, now prominent investment banker Jeremy, 25 years after they parted ways following their arrival in England.

The flawed pursuits of Grishina, the British government, and especially blunder-prone CIA agents prompt "Vodka Vandals" Albert and Jeremy to commence a "Midnight Run"/"The In-Laws" odd couple-style escape across the countryside with their stuffed monkey companion. Said chase provides a great deal of fodder for British-style mid-brow humor.

The real-life political aspects and similar "Hogan's Heroes" element of everyone involved having a mission makes "Sleepers" a more interesting and substantial program than even the best of the more traditional sitcoms from any continent.

The high-stakes pursuits, inter-national rivalries, and life-and-death situations simply make for more compelling plots than inviting the boss over for dinner the same night that a nutty relative is visiting or getting locked in a room with a disagreeable co-worker. At the same time, Albert's "after you've gone" style "monster-in-law" is an element that nicely helps "Sleepers" retain traditional sitcom elements.

"Chariots of Fire" actor Nigel Havers, who also is a veteran of "Coronation Street" and numerous other British programs that include the soon-to-be reviewed Britcom "Don't Wait Up," shines as Jeremy. His portrayal as a man who has his highly satisfying (if not ideal) life horribly disrupted is spot-on.

The even more prolific Warren Clarke is also well-cast as not-so-bright working stiff Albert. He adds a wonderful human element to a character who loves his wife and children, cares about his blue-collar "comrades" whom he effectively represents, and whose status in life affects how Jeremy regards him.

In other words, our leads effectively show us how formerly dedicated KGB agents become so committed to their mission of becoming immersed in British society that they effectively forget why they were brought there. The extensive humorous commentary on the the post-collapse Russian society is terrific icing on the cake.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Sleepers" is encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.