We’ve been watching a fantastic British spy series, known on BBC America as “MI-5”. It’s the thinking person’s “24”. Now, “24” is highly entertaining, but it is more of a cartoon series than serious drama. And it is darkly fascistic (torture actually works) and mythologizes a la Superman its lead character, Jack Bauer. “Spooks” however works because of much stronger narrative elements, such as character development and fine dialogue, and of course that staple of British series, fine acting. The boss here actually has a brain and not just political instinct, and as played by actor Peter Firth has some of the best lines of the show. Hugh Laurie does his usual star turn in the few episodes in which he appears. He is so good you end up hitting the rewind button to re-experience his moments and sharp retorts. Importantly, this show can handle nuance and ambiguity (Hugh Laurie’s character to Matthew McFayden’s: “You do ambiguity, don’t you, Tom?”). Both shows are heavily influenced in tone and action by 9/11. Both have stylish art direction — dark shiny surfaces, eerie shades of color — and jarring sounds from contemporary trappings that act as counterpoint to plot development. The entirely believable apocalyptic Episode 5 in Series 2 is brilliant, and quite a contrast to the “24” nuke season which was so preposterous. Here’s something else I love about this series: the actors have faces. There is not a sign of cosmetic surgery anywhere.