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The Time: Wednesdays, 8:00 PM, NBC
Married couple, Steven and Samantha Bloom, are owners of a catering business in L.A. But they’re also retired spies who fell in love and left the CIA five years ago in order to have a normal life. But when their friend (and Samantha’s former partner), Leo Nash, goes missing, they’re re-recruited by CIA hard-ass agent, Carlton Shaw, to track him down. The couple, who hadn’t worked together when they were agents, then rediscover each other and find out that maybe the normal life isn’t for them.
• Boris Kodjoe – Steven Bloom
• Gugu Mbatha-Raw – Samantha Bloom
• Gerald McRaney – Carlton Shaw
• Mekia Cox – Lizzy Gilliam
• Carter MacIntyre – Leo Nash
• Ben Schwartz – Star
The Episode: “Pilot”
The Blooms are busy in their normal life away from the agency, running a bustling yet struggling catering agency in L.A., which typically leaves them too tired for even some intimacy during their down time. Meanwhile, their friend, CIA Agent Leo Nash, goes missing when he’s pursued by armed gunman through a hotel. The Blooms are approached by Shaw, a career agent, who is disdainful of their decision to leave the agency that invested so heavily in them. They agree to return for one operation to find Leo, and jet all over Europe to track him down. Along the way, they discover that, not only do they still have the instincts of seasoned agents, they enjoy working together.
The comparisons are obvious for Undercovers: True Lies, Chuck, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and especially Alias, the last of course because that was another property of creator J.J. Abrams. Going way back, Hart To Hart has been mentioned in reference, and is possibly the most apropos in many respects. However, Undercovers is a far more sugary concoction than that show, and is very much what Chuck would be with a focus on strictly Chuck and Sarah. Undercovers‘ pilot is a wispy, jet-setting exercise that covers all the familiar territory as its forebears. The dialogue, which tries to keep things light, still weighs itself down with its own clunkiness at time. Despite the appreciable efforts of the two highly-attractive stars, the show doesn’t quite capture the chemistry of Zachary Levi’s and Yvonne Strahovski’s other spy couple.
Normally, where a leaden narrative, too much set up time, and the burdens of establishing the all-important mythology these days are often a concern, Undercovers shoots right past all of that with a flighty pace that at times seems to threaten to yadda yadda key points. Indeed, anything resembling true jeopardy never emerges, and the two protagonists lead the viewer to believe that this whole spy thing is just a tableau for attractive people in attractive clothes in attractive places. Abrams, who directed a pilot for the first time since 2004’s Lost, is certainly no stranger to the spy business. But he nevertheless doesn’t succeed in breaking much new ground here. There’s all the old familiar infiltrating a party, shootouts with bad guys, hacking computers and using ATM surveillance video. Basically all the top moves from the old spy playbook.
Kodjoe and Mbatha-Raw do interact well; although their comfort in resuming their old lives came at the expense of any interpersonal conflict, which could have given the pilot a tad more heft. Kodjoe’s Steven comes across possessing the charm of a modern Billy Dee with a very easygoing nature. Mbatha-Raw smolders as Sam, as there are a couple of nice opportunities to catch her scantily clad; and she is her husband’s equal in every way. They slip right back into their former lives like a pair of old comfortable socks (or, hopefully in Mbatha-Raw’s case, knee high stockings).
Dispensing with the relationship dance from the get-go means that the action and the cases will probably need to be more in the forefront. If they’re as fanciful as this opening installment, that may prove to be a problem. For Undercovers is not intended to be an outright comedy as Chuck is, and more of an emotional investment will almost certainly be needed, which the pilot lacked. McRaney was above all other supporting cast with his amiable gruffness. Ben Schwartz’ Hoyt was immediately one-note and frequently annoying. Mekia Cox didn’t have enough time to make much impact. Carter MacIntyre’s Nash has comedic sidekick promise. The look and direction of the pilot were understandably lush and the action didn’t disappoint.