Here's bloody good news: The new CBC drama X Company (CBC, 9 p.m.) is vastly entertaining. A Second World War spy drama, on the evidence of the first two episodes it's brimming with action, tension delivered with appropriate dollops of poignancy and done with slick confidence.
It comes from Flashpoint creators Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern and is based, loosely, on the existence of the real Camp X, a training school for spies and the organization of covert operations, established in the early 1940s by the British Army on Lake Ontario near Oshawa.
The gist is this – the drama is structured to follow a core gang of recruits, Canadian, American and British, who learn "unconventional warfare" and then go into action in Europe against the Nazis. The central seven characters are nicely crafted and the performances are excellent.
A good deal of the advance promotion will tell you that it is all built around the character of Alfred Graves, played by British actor Jack Laskey. Alfred is a shy, nervous man with unique abilities. (He's based on a real person who had "exceptional cross-wiring of the senses known as synesthesia.") While Alfred gets loads of space and scenes, especially after the first episode, and Laskey is excellent, this is really a very strong ensemble drama.
Things open in a town in France in 1942. A man has been hanged and his body is just there, obvious, while a child makes some markings on white cloths. Spies are at work in this occupied town. Something has gone awry, though, and the Nazis plan to massacre the town's inhabitants – but the spies have a plan to stop that happening.
We're whisked back to Camp X in Ontario where an officer (Hugh Dillon) is barking at an uptight British senior officer, "It's this kind of backward thinking that loses a war." At issue is the presence of Alfred, who is far from the usual recruit.
Meanwhile, back in France (the series was made in Hungary), fiercely tense drama unfolds. This is very well-done, seat-of-the pants stuff and very gripping.
We learn that two of the spies are lovers and each has his or her own set of special skills. After events that won't be revealed here, the spies reunite at Camp X and Alfred is fully introduced, allowing him to truly enter the action in the second episode. It, too, is gripping, albeit more talky, with a convincing sense of danger pervading the narrative.
If you're a fan of those British wartime dramas about derring-do, danger and the encountering of an occasional German with a good heart, you will adore X Company. Each week, it seems, the story involves the core gang of spies going on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines and then reconvening at Camp X.
While it's very entertaining at the start, and there isn't a lapse in the pace of the storytelling, there is nothing unconventional about X Company. It's anchored in the familiar and successful TV-drama model. With Strange Empire, CBC has a drama that upends expectations and wanders trippily into greatness; X Company, on the other hand, is finely executed to entertain in an orthodox manner.
There are oddities. Dillon is underused as Duncan Sinclair, the stern officer back at home base. Most of his time is spent making too-earnest speeches. Also, it's worth remembering that although much has been made of the show's basis in a real training camp in Ontario, suspension of disbelief is required at some of the twists. This is slick entertainment, not a history lesson.
In the cast there are two truly outstanding female roles. Evelyne Brochu (familiar as Delphine on Orphan Black) is awesome as Aurora, a vastly complicated woman with a great deal of emotional baggage. Brochu outright owns many sequences here. Also outstanding is Stratford Festival veteran Lara Jean Chorostecki (familiar from NBC's Hannibal as the blogger Freddie Lounds) who plays the Camp X-based officer Krystina Breeland. A slight figure who blossoms when called upon, Breeland is a character you want to see more often.
There's a bit of visual gimmickry as the mercurial Alfred character is fully established, which is irritating but not overdone. X Company is a good, solid thriller much in the way that conventional CBS procedurals are good and can be very entertaining. It's no masterpiece, but one is thrilled to find that it delivers what it aims to deliver.
Also airing Wednesday
(CBS, CTV, 8 p.m.) reaches its series finale with a two-hour episode. And about time, too. The show lost its drive when the Red John storyline was finished. As the Holmes-like Patrick Jane, Simon Baker has sustained the charm, but as the series evolved into something anchored in Jane's romantic relationship with Lisbon (Robin Tunney), the silliness exploded. In the finale, Jane takes on one last case and then … is there a wedding? Probably. This is old-school network TV.
All times ET. Check local listings.