The Iris’ 10 Favourite Spy TV Series

Soon our cinema screens will once again be host to enormous explosions, high tech gadgetry and sneaky secretive spies. With the release of the new trailer for Spectre and Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation opening in cinemas this week, plus The Man From U.N.C.L.E. only a few weeks away – we’re taking a look at some of our favourite spy series that graced the small screen in no particular order.


One of Kiefer Sutherland’s stand-out roles as Jack Bauer of the Counter Terrorist Unit. This series was critically acclaimed as well as unbelievably popular. It was also ground-breaking in how each episode covers the events of a single hour in Bauer’s life in real time. Utilising a ticking digital clock and split screens to show events occurring simultaneously the show was a high stakes, high intensity political thriller that ended up going on to be the longest ever running espionage-themed television series on U.S screens.

Burn Notice

This was a bit of a twist on the spy series with the title of the show referring to the notice that’s issued to intelligence agents when they’re dismissed from their respective agency. Left without work history, money or support – essentially they’re left without an identity and to try to survive. The series uses second person narrative and voice overs in the form of tips by agent Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) as if he’s training young agents in an orientation video. This scored massive bonus points for also having sassy Bruce Campbell as a series regular and compatriot to Donovan’s Weston.



You can’t really go through a list of favourites without something by J.J Abrams popping up and this list is no exception. This show helped propel Jennifer Garner in to some big screen movie roles and also gave us a female badass lead on the small screen. As with many spy series, this also included Garner’s character Sydney Bristow having to juggle a double life of hiding her real spy career from her family. Oh and let’s not forget that this was where we all got to know Bradley Cooper.


It’s not often you get an action packed spy series that has comedy elements in it (see our entry for Get Smart further down) and manages to equally balance the serious with the tongue-in-cheek. Created by Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz, the latter having just come off the back of The OC, this was one of the shows that brought nerd and geek culture into the mainstream. It was also one of the few spy series that had burgeoning romantic undertones between the two leads Chuck Bartowski (Zach Levi) and Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski). – Jazz Hayward

Mission: Impossible

You can’t have Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt without Mission: Impossible the TV series. Thanks to the original agents Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) and Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) of the IMF they paved the way for many spy tv shows to come after, not to mention the M:I films.

Get Smart

If you’re going to satirize the spy genre, you’ve gotta do it right and you can boil the success of Get Smart down to the comedic genius of creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. As with all great comedies, the show spawned a number of popular catchphrases including “Missed it by that much” and one of our favourite gadgets the shoe-phone.


Not all action spy shows have to be real, the animated series Archer is a great example of a parody spy series that puts its tongue firmly in cheek when depicting the spy lifestyle of Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) and his crew. This is a proper laugh out loud comedy series with over the top animated action and stories and its wildly politically incorrect dialogue.


Most spies are equipped with amazing gadgets and weapons and all sorts of things in order to aid them in their missions. But secret agent Angus Macgyver (Richard Dean Anderson) would rely on his trusty swiss army pocket knife, his extensive knowledge of a practical application of scientific knowledge and an inventive use of common items to get him out of his tricky situations. Admittedly though the show’s creators acknowledged that in real life you would have to be very lucky for any of Macgyver’s jury rigged devices to work. But hey at least it made it fun to watch to try and guess how Mac would get out of each of his scenarios.

Spooks (aka MI-5)

One of the most popular British espionage series that screened from 2002 to 2011 and lasted 10 seasons. The show had a ridiculous number of plot twists and you were always left guessing as to who was a good guy and who was a double agent. As with most of these TV series it even spawned a film spin-off/continuation starring Kit Harington but I don’t think it quite made it to Australian shores.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E

One of the reasons for this show’s popularity was that unlike other spy based organisations this was a global organisation with agents of many countries and cultures, almost like the United Nations of spies. They’ve even kept props, costumes and documents that were used on the show in Ronal Reagan’s Presidential Library exhibit on spies even though the show was fictitious. Bonus points for this show having the man who created James Bond – Ian Fleming – contribute to the show concepts.

Honourable Mentions: Covert Affairs, The Avengers, Fleming, The Americans, La Femme Nikita / Nikita

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is in cinemas July 30th.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is in cinemas on August 13th.


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Carina Nilma

Office lackey day-job. Journalist for The AU Review night-job. Emotionally invested fangirl.