Picks and Pans Review: Masterpiece Theatre: a Perfect Spy

updated 10/17/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/17/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

PBS (Sun., Oct. 16, 9 p.m. ET)


England needs more shrinks or priests so the nation's authors can have someone to whom they can confess their neuroses and sins—someone other than the poor TV audience. First came Dennis (Track 29) Potter's unredeemingly disgusting The Singing Detective, in which he saw his own disease as a metaphor for all society's ills. Now comes a mini-series based on John le Carré's A Perfect Spy, in which he sees his relationship with his own father as the key to all society's deceptions. So don't expect a thrilling le Carré spy story in this seven-part season opener for Masterpiece Theatre. Yes, this is the story of a spy. But it is the story of a spy who happens to be chronically troubled by his relationship with his ne'er-do-well con man of a father—just as le Carré himself was troubled in real life. Peter (Paradise Postponed) Egan plays the son and spy, Magnus Pym, who learns the skills of deception and treachery from his dad, played by Ray (The Fourth Protocol) McAnally. The son deceives his own friends and then his own nation, giving Britain's secrets to the commies through his Czech handler, played wonderfully by German actor Rüdiger (Heimat) Weigang. Since this is supposed to be the story of a father and son, the scenes between father and son should be the good ones, rich in emotion and meaning. But those scenes turn out to be strange and obtuse, portraying the relationship in an emotional shorthand only le Carré can fully appreciate. No, the good scenes—and, near the end, there are a lot of them—come between the spy and his handler. So A Perfect Spy wants to be a real spy story, a true thriller. But instead, it is just a well-produced, well-acted exercise in psychotherapy.

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