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Sexpionage: Investigating NBC's Undercovers

J.J. Abrams and Josh Reims' new espionage drama Undercovers launches tonight on NBC, as the fall premiere week wears on. Will it perform better than FOX's Lone Star, which crashed and burned on Monday? We'll find out tomorrow.

Here's what I had to say about the series over in my Fall TV Preview feature at The Daily Beast recently:

WATCH: Undercovers (NBC; premieres September 22)

While we can all agree that Alias went off the rails in the later seasons--thanks to the increasingly Byzantine Rambaldi plot--the early years were pitch perfect. Series creator J.J. Abrams--here teaming up with his Felicity cohort Josh Reims—has gone back to the feel of those early Sydney Bristow adventures but infused them with more romance and a hell of a lot more humor with their new show, Undercovers. Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw play the world's most gorgeous professional caterers, a married pair who just happen to have met while on their previous job: as two of the very best agents the CIA had to offer. Forced back into the field when a friend of theirs goes missing while on assignment, the two rekindle the sparks of their dormant passion and are drawn back into their old lives. The chemistry between the two leads is undeniable, but if Undercovers hopes to become appointment viewing, the writers have got to balance the show's flashy style with some intelligence and substance.

While Undercovers isn't perfect by any means, it at least seems to know what it is and wants to be, which is more than I can say for many a new fall series launching right now. The main draw is definitely the winning combination of Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who smolder on-screen together. Their relationship is at the core of the series, which explores the state of modern marriage, the ruts that some of us can find ourselves in, and the spark that's rekindled when these two reenter the high-stakes world of international espionage.

The show juxtaposes action and adventure in a style that's very familiar to fans of Chuck, who will encounter a series that's far more similar to the NBC action-comedy than Abrams' previous series like Alias or Lost. But the workplace setting here--Steven and Samantha run a successful catering company--falls with a leaden weight in the pilot episode, recalling the irritating and unnecessary arc that Merrin Dungey's Francie went through opening her restaurant on Alias. I don't care about the event functions, the canapes, nor the struggles of Samantha's sister as she's left holding the reins while our couple heads off in search of adventure, danger, and their missing former colleague.

If the writers can find a way to balance the funny and the tense, the provocative and the mundane, this could develop into a nice relationship-based spy drama that can sit comfortably alongside Chuck. As it is, the show has a nice amount of potential but it's one of those shows that I wish the network had sent out more than one episode of in advance. I'm curious to see the second episode and whether it proves to be engaging and diverting on a weekly basis, sans the production budget of this expensive pilot.

In any case, I'll be sticking around for a few weeks to see what develops, passed hors d'oeuvres or no.

Undercovers launches tonight at 8 pm ET/PT on NBC.

Comments

Page48 said…
"Chuck" is a thing of beauty, but it doesn't need a running mate.

As much as I look forward to 'the feel of those early Sydney Bristow adventures', I positively cringe at the thought of UC being 'infused with more romance and a hell of a lot more humour'.

"Alias" was 'pitch perfect' for a reason that had little to do with romance OR humour and a whole lot more to do with tension and danger and excitement and goodness and evil and betrayal and a lot of other things that I don't hear mentioned in discussions of "Undercovers".

With so many spy shows coming on board lately (the most recent being the disappointing "Covert Affairs"), why are networks and writers so reluctant to give us the good stuff? "Alias" was the crack cocaine of TV 9 years ago, when Suit & Glasses asked Sydney Bristow "who do you work for, you pretty little girl?".

Now we're hoping for standalone, mythology-free "sexpionage" to fill the void?
Kat said…
It was just OK. I will give it a few more episodes before I decide. Personally I thought the romance angle felt forced and got in the way of the spy caper angle. And taking a call from the sister in the middle of the attempt to rescue their friend had me rolling my eyes in disbelief.
Tempest said…
Considering how well early Alias knocked it out of the park, I was expecting good things from this. I was surprised at how "meh" my reaction was. I can't put my finger on why it didn't quite gel for me, but it didn't. (Unlike shows such as Alias, White Collar, Chuck, and Leverage which I bonded with immediately.) I'll give it a little more time, though.

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