COBRA review: Armageddon has never looked as uneventful and lacking in bite

COBRA the mini-series is not to be confused with Cobra the film, in which Sylvester Stallone lumbers around in a big coat and a pair of sunglasses (at night), blowing holes in bad guys with his big gun as he tries to protect his then girlfriend Brigitte Nielsen from a fate worse than death.

Given the woodenness of Nielsen’s performance, this would most likely involve her being whittled into the matchsticks Stallone chews on throughout the thing, while intermittently mumbling “You’re the disease and I’m the cure” before blowing another hole in another bad guy.

Nor is COBRA to be confused with any other reptile-related offerings, such as Anaconda (Jon Voight hunts a giant CGI snake while leering at a bra-less Jennifer Lopez in a wet top) or Snakes on a Plane (Samuel L Jackson effs and blinds at a load of CGI snakes on a plane). This COBRA isn’t even a snake.

It stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, the fabled underground chamber the British cabinet retreats to in times of emergency, yet in its own way, COBRA is as daft as any of the above.

It might not have actual snakes, but it does have a plane: a French airliner that suddenly loses power and crashes spectacularly on the A1 motorway in the opening scene. Well, not all that spectacularly, to be be honest.

We don’t actually see the crash, just – much, much later – its aftermath as shocked Chief Constable Collier (Steven Cree) wanders among some artfully posed extras surrounded by a few suspiciously small fires. You’d see more impressive and expensive-looking pyrotechnics at the average Halloween bonfire.

However, before we get to this point, COBRA rewinds to “24 hours earlier” – an increasingly annoying habit of modern TV dramas – to show what caused the plane to plummet.

Solar flares are shooting from the sun, sparking a geomagnetic storm that will knock out the entire electricity grid and navigation systems, plunging society into darkness and inevitable anarchy.

The premise is uncomfortably close to 2018’s turkey Hard Sun, which the BBC wisely decided to cancel after six episodes, having unwisely decided to commission it in the first place.

Anyway, all this is very bad news for prime minister Robert Sutherland (Robert Carlyle), who’s a moderate Conservative, and his hard-as-nails chief of staff Anna Marshall (Victoria Hamilton).

Sutherland is already hanging on to power by his fingernails. His compassionate immigration policy has been leaked to The Daily Telegraph . . . ah, so there is a reptilian presence after all.

Devious Home Secretary Archie Glover-Morgan (David Haig, trying to breathe life into a caricature) circles like a hungry shark.

When government crisis manager Fraser Walker (Richard Dormer) says they don’t have enough generators to restore power to the whole of Britain, Archie suggests they leave Wales in the dark.

“You voted to leave the EU, Archie, not the human race,” snaps Sutherland. So they pick Scotland instead.

COBRA is strangely unconcerned about the bigger picture. Bar a brief reference to Germany, we don’t know whether the crisis is localised or global It’s so tightly focused on political power games that the characters seem to forget for long stretches of time that society is on the verge of crumbling.

The flashy trailer promised mayhem. Maybe that will come later, but the first two episodes (there are six in all) deliver more talk than action, and get bogged down in the characters’ various personal crises, all of them boring.

Marshall gets involved with an old flame. Walker has a love/hate relationship with his dying father. Sutherland’s daughter does drugs at a party where her friend ends up in a coma, necessitating a cover-up.

Frankly, it’s a big relief when the lights finally go out, because Armageddon has never looked as uneventful and lacking in bite.

COBRA: Sky 1, Friday; full series available to Sky subscribers

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