What I’ve Been Watching: The State Within versus State of Play

I recently finished The State Within. It’s a political thriller told over six episodes. It also stars an ensemble cast, and has twists and turns a plenty.

It reminded me a lot of State of Play. Like The State Within, it’s a political thriller told over six episodes. It also stars an ensemble cast, and has plenty of twists and turns.

Despite their similarities, I felt State of Play was far far superior to The State Within. I thought I’d review them both and try and figure out why two shows with such a lot in common gave me such differing experiences.

State of Play

state-of-play-poster.jpgState of Play is tale of a journalist, Cal, and his best friend Stephen, an MP. After Stephen’s research assistant mysteriously falls to her death, revelations come out about their affair. Stephen thinks he’s been set up and asks Cal to find out the truth about his lover’s death. However, friendships become strained after Cal discovers more than he bargained for.

State of Play is one of my favourite mini-series of the past ten years. It effortlessly combines thrills, likeable characters, and engaging, believable relationships.

It exists very much in the same vein as All The President’s Men. A modern love letter to investigative journalism (apparently a dying art).

In particular, the team of journalists led by Cal (John Simm), and featuring James McAvoy, Bill Nighy, and Kelly MacDonald is brilliantly cast and always exciting to watch.

The best ‘teams’ on television are the one’s you wish you were part of. Shows like Serenity, The West Wing, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are successful not just because of the individual characters, but because of the relationships these characters have. Relationships we would love to have in our own lives.

State of Play realises this, and it means as the plot makes it twists and turns we care about the individuals involved. This gives the final act a lot more weight than one off series of similar length.

The State Within

the_state_within_dvd__large_.jpgGiven the similarities with State of Play, I was fairly excited to watch The State Within. However, the show was a lot less enjoyable and engaging. It’s interesting to consider why this might be the case.

It stars Jason Isaacs as the British Ambassador to America. He has to deal with the fallout of a terrorist attack by a British Muslim on American soil. Meanwhile there’s a British citizen about to given the death sentence for a crime he apparently didn’t commit. Can the embassy prevent an innocent man being killed?

From there The State Within follows much the same formula as most conspiracy thrillers. Shady corporations, devious government officials, characters with split loyalties.

What it forgets to do is create characters with much depth or are even that enjoyable to be with. The ‘team’ at the British Embassy is so fragmented and self-serving that it’s difficult to root for anyone other than its two main leads.

In addition, The State Within takes itself very seriously, which is understandable given its subject matter. Nevertheless dramas like The West Wing have shown how to deal with serious issues in a very entertaining manner.

It feels like the writers’ were trying to hard to say something about the War on Terror that they forgot to create characters that were anything more than cogs around which the story turned.

After watching State of Play, I found myself wondering what happened to the characters after all the revelations and events of the six episodes. The State Within gave me no such feeling.

The State Within is a well-written, intelligent and well-acted drama. It’s just that in choosing to tackle the issues of our time at the expense of creating interesting, well-rounded characters I find it difficult to recommend.

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