While it doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny, Sky’s answer to HBO’s Chernobyl is the kind of earnestly binge-able television we could always use more of.
There are some shows that you shouldn’t think too much about, and Sky’s new crisis management thriller Cobra is probably one of them. The acronym of the title stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, a cadre of British government officials who meet during times of crisis. And there is indeed a crisis in this six-episode Sky exclusive, one of solar proportions. Anyone with knowledge of such matters will probably roll their eyes so severely at the thriller’s tossing about of terms like geomagnetic storm and such that they’re likely to plop right out onto their laps, but that would be a mistake. For all its flaws and occasional bouts of supreme silliness, Cobra accomplishes something rare on the telly nowadays outside of the big-hitter streaming platforms like Netflix — it’s simply, eminently binge-able.
And Robert Carlyle plays the Prime Minister, which is always a plus. His Robert Sutherland is attempting to lead the nation through an unprecedented disaster while polite society comes apart at the seams and various personal landmines are laid in front of his colleagues and fellow citizens, including his Chief of Staff Anna Marshall (Victoria Hamilton), Home Secretary Archie Glover-Morgan (David Haig), and the ever-dependable Richard Dormer. As written by Ben Richards, it’s a decidedly made-for-TV kind of escalating ridiculousness, but that’s most of the point, and part of the show’s simple one-more-episode charms.
As an answer to HBO’s Chernobyl, Cobra can’t really compete. Then again no other show I’ve ever seen has made a dry explanation of nuclear fission so riveting, and if a homegrown effort like this somewhat pales in comparison to a veritable masterpiece of fact-based drama, so what? Cobra operates on a different level, that of small-scale problem-solving in the face of a large-scale disaster, and its sting is in how easy it is to imagine contemporary society descending into a kind of frantic dystopia at the slightest provocation. Whether or not it holds up under scrutiny is beside the point. And more importantly, it wouldn’t be as much fun if it did.