One of ITC's BestRating: 2 likes, 0 dislikes
In the mid-1960s, England's ITC Productions churned out series after series with apparent minimal effort. The amazing thing is that very few, if any, of these shows appeared to be a quick knock-off. The company that gave us the classics The Saint, The Prisoner, and The Avengers was also responsible for a most underrated classic -- Department S.
The series did follow a "formula" of sorts, as most ITC shows had three lead characters (usually two men and a woman) and a number of them featured an American (e.g., Stuart Damon in The Champions). That is the only thing "formula" about this series.
Department S (the "S" was never explained in the series; however, the show was created by Dennis Spooner, so the "S" may have been to give the series the same initials as its creator) was an elite branch of Interpol. Their function was to solve the unsolvable. Run-of-the-mill cases never crossed the Department's desk. Their assignments were more along the lines of finding out how a plane managed to land in London without a crew or any passengers, how the population of an entire village disappeared overnight, or why a man walked into a morgue and shot a corpse. The writing was exceptional, providing these and many other baffling oddities.
The three main characters were diverse, unique, and brilliantly presented. Peter Wyngarde played Jason King, a narcissistic novelist and aloof playboy with a love for whiskey and women. His method was most unorthodox: turn every case into a scenario for his fictional hero to solve, then approach it the way he would. Such actions annoyed his co-workers, but (as Stewart once pointed out) Jason developed "a nasty habit of scoring near-misses" with such an approach. The American was Stewart Sullivan (played by Joel Fabiani), an FBI agent who was considered the field leader. He made the decisions and served as the liaison between the Department and their official leader (Sir Curtis Seretse). Intelligent, handsome, and a good fighter, Stewart trusted his co-workers to be able to do their jobs without any worry that they would not accomplish the job. Annabelle Hurst (Rosemary Nicols) was the computer expert, but her operation of "Auntie" (the computer) hardly kept her in the office while the men did the legwork.
Sir Curtis (Dennis Alaba Peters) was a trendsetter: a black man in the late 1960s in a position of authority and power. He simply was not in this series enough. When he had a prominent role (e.g., "The Bones of Byrom Blain," "Death on Reflection") he was superb.
The interplay between the main characters was fabulous. There was obviously a romance of some sort between Stewart and Annabelle, although it was never directly referenced or shown. On the other hand, the animosity between Annabelle and Jason was blatant -- and frequently the source of some of the best comedy in the show.
Australia's Umbrella Entertainment released Department S on DVD in 2003, allowing the world to remember this outstanding classic or to see it for the first time.
Review posted on Monday, October 9th 2006 at 4:00 pm