Look, Cobra is kind of a silly drama. At one point I was going to give it two stars. It’s so predictable, I thought! It’s full of clichés! I have a ton of objections! And yet, for days afterwards, I was itching to watch more. Then after episode two, I wanted to watch episode three. So: four stars for Sky One’s slightly-ludicrous new show.
Robert Carlyle stars as Prime Minister Robert Sutherland, leading the nation through a sudden and unexpected crisis. By his side is Chief of Staff Anna Marshall (Victoria Hamilton, AKA the original Queen Mum from The Crown), and at his throat is Home Secretary Archie Glover-Morgan (Killing Eve’s David Haig). Cobra, of course, is short for “Cabinet Office briefing room A” and is a council that meets in times of emergency; in this instance it does not refer to a venomous snake, though you’d better watch out for Archie.
The PM has a lot to worry about besides threats to his leadership, because the scientists are saying that the sun is about to emit a solar flare and cause a geomagnetic storm and fry the electricity grid and mess up all the plane navigation systems. This is Very Bad News. And if you’ve watched the trailer, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that things quickly descend into chaos when the lights go out.
Of course, writer Ben Richards has set up a bunch of bombs to explode in all his main characters’ personal lives just as the crisis hits. Civil contingency planner Fraser Walker (Richard Dormer) has an elderly dad in a care home; the PM’s daughter is in quite a plight; and a mysterious man from Anna’s past has just turned up at her front door. Predictable? Yes. Watchable? Very.
But really, there’s something fascinating about watching a semi-dystopian disaster drama unfold on familiar streets. The whole series has got a real The Day After Tomorrow vibe to it as everyday life is suddenly disrupted and society begins to fray at the edges. We’re also treated to some brilliant performances from Robert Carlyle and Richard Dormer and particularly Victoria Hamilton, who is just a force of nature.
That’s not to say the drama isn’t frustrating. For example: somehow, Cobra forgets that other countries exist?? It’s so weird. By the end of episode two we have no idea if any other countries were affected by the geomagnetic storm, or whether the sun just targeted the British Isles specifically. There’s a brief mention of a transformer being shipped from Germany, but – well – doesn’t Germany need to get back up and running too? Or is Germany fine? If so, why isn’t Angela Merkel on the phone? Are the other countries just sitting there and watching in silence? What is Trump saying on Twitter? I have a lot of questions.
Also, one final quibble: everyone’s smartphones keep working fine, which just seems wildly unlikely. In the real world, the nation’s phone batteries would die in a few hours and we’d all be back to using morse code or carrier pigeons or something.
But I’ll stop with the nitpicking, even if there are plenty of nits to pick – because really this is watchable telly. Cobra may not be Sky’s next Chernobyl but it sure is… something.
Cobra aired January-February 2020 on Sky One and NOW TV
Cobra starts on Sunday 4 October at 10/9c on PBS in the US