The Grid
Carnival Films Production / TNT / Fox / Groveland Pictures 2004
Episode 1
TX : 7th September 2004

Synopsis: A chemical bomb explodes in London and a terror alert hits the New York subway. British intelligence agents are mobilised in a joint operation with US counter-terrorism operatives. Can they find the terrorist cell responsible?

Publicity : Television loves scaring its audiences, particularly when it comes to the new bogeymen - terrorists - who are rapidly supplanting serial killers as TV drama's enemy of choice.
So here we have The Grid; a great big glossy and expensive BBC/US television co-production with terrorist attacks on innocent people at its heart. (The entire series is to be screened in three chunks this week on consecutive nights). We are flung straight into the action when a know of Middle-Eastern terrorists meets in a London hotel to prepare a gas attack - on whom, we don't know. But due to a spectacularly odd and careless slip by one of the terrorists, things go badly wrong from the outset. Many people, including the terrorists, dies instantly.

Cue security services on both sides of the Atlantic (this is where the co-production bit comes in), who leap into action before bickering between themselves over who has jurisdiction over whom. It's all tremendously fast-paced and looks good (so it should, The Grid cost $20 million to make). But there are frequent betrayals of its mainly American origins, particularly in the dialogue, where characters have to go into painfully slow interlocutions about religion, world events and so on.

There are also recognisable dramatic clichés - the maverick secret agent with a bruised heart for whom the hunt for the terrorists is terribly personal, and the idealistic young doctor who, against his better judgement, is coerced into becoming part of a terrorist network for the good of his people. Still, The Gird rattles along and it's a good yarn, whether or not it bears any relation to reality. And it's got Bernard Hill in it, as a crusty British counter-terrorist operative. We don't see him often enough, but you'll be glad he's around (Radio Times article by Alison Graham).

Cast: Bashara (Barber Ali); Yemeni Colonel (Hrant Alianan)l; Howard Masters (Don Allison); NSC Staffer (Carol Anderson); Italian businessman (Karim Aouni); Samud Amallah (Sarkis Rekmesian); FBI Agent #2 (Christopher Cordell); Jeremy (Jake Lurdan); Masir (Furman Dar); FBI Agent #1 (Elle Downs); Nazira (Houda Echouaini); London sarin carrier (Huss Garbiya); Tulane kid two (Riche Gibson); Duty officer (Martin Herdman); Gregor (David Hunt); Catherine Cross (Chapelle Jaffe); Franch translator (Samira Ktiri); Davi (Jack Langidijk); Ilsa Kasselov (Nina Thilas Mohs); American Newscaster (Mike Morris); Lagos waitress (Racha Moussadago); Buzz Corelli (Tony Nappo); Young policeman (Ciaran O' Driscoll); MI6 staffer (Robert Purdy); Foukara (Sevag Sagherian); Omar Mossif (Jeff Seymour); Julaidin (Hassani Shapi); DIA analyst (Nora Sheehan); Menno Kasselov (Serge Soric); Waiter (Paul Stephen); British newscaster (Jeremy Thompson); Coila (Badria Timima); Reem Mulce (Agni Tsangaridou); Aguag (David K.S. Tse); Hotel desk man (Badi Uzzaman); Tulane kid one (Andreis Williams); Roli Kuster (Alfred Yaeger); Akbar (Adil Yamiahi); French oil broker (Jacques Zartarian); Mark Corrice (Joseph Ziegler).

Notes: Carnival Films are the production company behind a number of television drama series, including Poirot, Bugs, Crime Traveller, The Tenth Kingdom and Oktober.

Bernard Hill's best-known role is still as Yosser Hughes in Boys from the Blackstuff, but more recently has been seen in the Lord of the Rings films.

Jemma Redgrave is probably most recognisable for her role in the eponymous series Bramwell.

Agni Tsangaridou also appeared in the similarly-themed The Hamburg Cell.

Director Mikael Saloman was cinematographer on film such as The Abyss, Far and Away, Backdraft and Arachnophobia and also directed episodes of Band of Brothers.

Episodes were transmitted on consecutive nights at 9.00pm on BBC2.

Episode 2
TX : 8th September 2004

Synopsis: After her failure to stop the Lagos bombings, Maren Jackson's elite team is officially disbanded, But the group continue to work in secret as the terror network put their second plan into motion. Raza Michaels, aided by Emily Tuthill, starts to follow the money trail from Switzerland to the terrorists.

Publicity : With such a famous family, it's inevitable that Jemma Redgrave is sometimes accused of trading on her surname. "It opens doors, absolutely," says the 39-year old, "But it doesn't get you a job… you only get it if you're a good actor."
Jemma's CV certainly proves that she's good. Although best known for starring in the long-running Victorian medical drama Bramwell, she's been seen in recent years in The Swap, Mosley (alongside Jonathan Cake, with whom she was romantically linked during a separation from Tim Owen, her QC husband of 12 years), Amnesia and, this week, as an MI6 operative in The Grid.

Jemma (or Red Gravy as she was nicknamed at school) was 13 when she decided to follow in her family's footsteps (her father is Corin, her grandfather Michael and her aunts Vanessa and Lynn, while Natasha and Joely Richardson are her cousins) and join a youth theatre. Now she has two young children of her own (Gabriel, ten, and Alfie, four) and suspects at least one of them will keep up the family tradition. "Gabriel wants to write comedy," she says. "Well, that's what he wants to do at the moment." (Radio Times article by Jane Rackham).

Cast: FBI Agent #2 (Christopher Cordell); Masir (Furman Dar); Gregor (David Hunt); Catherine Cross (Chapelle Jaffe); Davi (Jack Langidijk); Foukara (Sevag Sagherian); Omar Mossif (Jeff Seymour); British newscaster (Jeremy Thompson); Suicide boy #1 (Mohamed Abantor); Suicide boy #2 (Aussama Aouami Tioua); Detroit FBU agent (Richard Blackburn); State Departement (Laurent Bouaziz); Refinery clerk (Paul Bridle); Jim (James Buller); Cathy (Maggie Castle); Al Qaeda leader #2 (Abdellah Chakiri); Doctor (Hash Chamchoun); Wang Soh Li (Ho Oyster Chow); Jamil (Karim Dakka); Amir (Zacaria Dourkane); Lois Avery (Rosemary Dunsmore); Danny (Mac Fyfe); Jasmine (Jennifer Hanoush); Agent (Henri Khouri); Jenna (Dorian Kolinas); Customs guard (Colm Magner); Alkesi (Ivan Marevich); Cairo interrogator (Aaron Neil); Kirk Chase (Paulino Nunes); Al Qaeda leader #1 (Ibrahim Ouabid); Polyographer (Chris Owens); Shane Bilups (Daniel Petronijevic); MI5 agent (Robert Rawles); Kamil (Varant Torissian); Foud al Bansour (Andy Velasquez).

Notes: Appearing in a small role here, Chris Owens was a semi-regular in The X Files as Agent Jeffrey Spender.

Episode 3
TX : 9th September 2004

Synopsis: The explosive conclusion to this thought-provoking drama sees Maren and Max in pursuit of the teenager planning a US-based attack. In the meantime, Raghib orchestrates a terrorist assault in London, while a cabal of other young Muslims prepare a similar salvo in the Middle East. Can Maren's team track them all down? If Muhammed is caught, will that really be the end of the story?

Publicity : Global terrorists are television's new bogeymen, the shady figures propelling television drama into a landscape changed for ever by the 11 September attacks.
Presumably because the wounds cut on that awful day remain too deep, producers have been shy of looking directly at its events. But more generally, terrorism has become fertile dramatic ground, both established drama and in the case of The Grid, screened on BBC2 this week across three consecutive nights. It's a slick and glossy $20 million drama serial focussing on US and British counter-terrorist operatives working to avert a devastating co-ordinated Arab terrorist attack in three countries.

Though the lion's share of the funding was put up by the American cable network TNT, the BBC also contributed money to a series full of well-known US and British faces, including Julianna Marguiles and Bernard Hill, and which was filmed here, across the Atlantic and in Morocco. Gareth Neame, the BBC's head of independent drama commissioning (he brought Spooks, State of Play and Hustle to our screens), oversaw the co-production. He says that the BBC's contribution to that $20 million was significant, but adds, "It's a small proportion of the total, so we certainly haven't paid over the odds or spent more than we would normally spend."

Neame also tweaked The Grid's content in the editing suite for its British audience (the series went out on US TV last month to largely positive reviews). "I did some re-cutting, though not much. But there was no re-shooting." Any potential problems when a producer attempts to please two very different audiences were, says Neame, tackled during the development stage. But certain scenes may still jar with British audiences. For instance, Marguiles' character at one point launches into a rather heavy-handed account of Islam and its attitudes towards women, an account that is automatically addressed by a Muslim colleague.

Was Neame at all uncomfortable with such scenes? "This is an issue in a co-production like The Grid, but the Americans involved had to think about an audience with perhaps a somewhat less broad view than us of world events. Some things had to be explained." Neame was also keen that the series, written and directed by Americans, was as thoughtful and as balanced as possible. Last year his series Spooks was at the eye of a huge storm when Muslim groups vociferously complained about one episode involving young Muslim suicide bombers. "When we were developing The Grid, I'd only recently gone through that Spooks experience, so I was mindful of it. If you ever try to do these dramas where the person planting bombs is just a mad person dressed in funny clothes, that's just not scary, as they're not a real character. With a project of this scope, we wanted to understand the terrorists' motivation (Radio Times article by Alison Graham).

Cast: Suicide boy #1 (Mohamed Abantor); Suicide boy #2 (Aussama Aouami Tioua); Buzz Corelli (Tony Nappo); Julaidin (Hassani Shapi); Aguag (David K.S. Tse); Mark Corrice (Joseph Ziegler); Jim (James Buller); Jamil (Karim Dakka); Amir (Zacaria Dourkane); Al Qaeda leader #1 (Ibrahim Ouabid); Shane Bilups (Daniel Petronijevic); US judge (Michael Ayoub); Sayer (Abderrahim Bargach); Woman neighbour (Tessa Bell-Briggs); Syrian boy (Soufiane Bensalem); Coast guard supervisor (Chris Benson); Bodyguard (Matthew Brenher); Martin Simmons (Andrew Burt); Jordanian security officer (Mohammed Choubi); Oil meeting security guard (Mark Flitton); Jim Santis (Diego Fuentes); Syrian football kid #1 (Sameh al Hazem); Allel Shafir (Abbas Kazerooni); Tanker captain (Bill Lake); MI5 Hoz-Mot (Scott Lane); Security director (Eddy Lemar); Saudi judge (Omar Mouiffan); Oil meeting security guard (Kieran Mullins); Saudi customs officer (Driss Rokhe); Syrian football kid #2 (Jihad Savignon); Chalib Barbos (Jamal Souissi); MI5 staffer (Nicole Worrica).

Notes: Andrew Burt was the original Jack Sugden in Emmerdale Farm.

Portrayed By
Marren Jackson
Julianna Marguiles
Max Canary
Dylan McDermott
Derek Jennings
Bernard Hill
Emily Tuthill
Jemma Redgrave
Hudson "Hud" Benoit
James Remar
Raza Michaels
Piter Marek
Jane McCann
Paula Devicq
Dr Raghib Mutar
Silas Carson
Stana Moore
Olek Krupa
Alki David
Kaz Moore
Barna Moricz
Alki Samoudi
Emil Marwa
Jay Aldrich
Robert Forster
Acton Sandman
Tom Skerrit
Imran Ali
Sarah Camfield
Suzanne Bertish
Eddie McCann
Alexander Conti
Nia Michaels
Anne Nahabedian
Lawrence King Phillips
Hamid Samoudi
Parvez Qadir
Raffi Mustafa
Farzad Sadrian

The series was written by Tracey Alexander and Ken Friedman and directed by Mikael Saloman

In a crafty piece of scheduling the three-part The Grid appeared not long after the similarly-themed The Hamburg Cell, and just before the third anniversary of the 11 September attacks. But while The Hamburg Cell was based firmly on reported fact, The Grid is a work of pure fiction from the pens of a pair of American writers, although it feels at times as though the series has been written by committee in an attempt to ensure that nobody is offended by the content.

Having the title that the series does, a fair bit of globetrotting takes place here, with settings such as London, New York, Lagos, Cairo, Sa'ana, and Riyadh appearing. Toronto stood in for the American-set scenes, while Morocco was used for any scenes covering the Middle East. The amount of money spent on the drama clearly shows and allowed for the multitude of filming locations. Effects are good, with the explosion at the hotel in Jordan in Part Three being particularly effective. The action shifts from one place to another quickly, ensuring that the pace is swift, although this does mean that the viewer has to pay careful attention as to who is who and what is happening. The audience is assisted in this task by the large number of on-screen captions that appear periodically throughout the course of the series.

While the series starts off promising, the plot unfortunately flags as the story goes on, with the America-set sections suffering particularly. The main "heroes" are not particularly memorable or likeable, apart from Bernard Hill's Derek Jennings and Jemma Redgrave's Emily Tuthill. Likewise, any sympathy that the viewer might have for the plight of Raghib Mutar is negated by his willingness to inflict pain and suffering on others.

The series was originally shown on the US cable channel TNT, with the British broadcast coming soon after on BBC2. As yet, it has not been released commercially in any format.

Text © Chris Orton, 2004.