Undercovers Series Premiere Review: A Slight Letdown
To borrow an episode title from J.J. Abrams' first hit, Alias: "So It Begins."
There was a lot to enjoy about the pilot episode of Undercovers. Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw make one insanely gorgeous couple of spies, and their chemistry together is stratospheric.
At first, I thought the intermingling of the married life and the spy life would grow tiresome, but I think the key to the ongoing success is in what Samantha Bloom pointed out: the two have no real knowledge of the other's life as a spy. They kept all that information classified.
It was one of the more amusing moments when, just before jumping out of a plane, Samantha revealed to Stephen that prior to him, she had an eighth-month long relationship with the agent they are going to find, Leo Nash.
And when the incessantly sycophantic Bill Hoyt references some of Stephen's more epic missions, that piques Samantha's curiosity. It's going to be interesting to see what else the two learn about each other as the series progresses.
Gerald McRaney does his best Major Dad redux as Carlton Shaw, who clearly despises the fact that he has been ordered to reactivate two agents that voluntarily left the agency because they put their personal desires ahead of the greater good.
I foresee plenty of comic relief coming from Shaw's interaction with the Blooms. Ben Schwartz's Hoyt, I imagine, is meant to be the "quirky sidekick" character, but I just found him grating. (Does he remind anyone else of a less brain-damaged Screech from Saved By The Bell?) I hope he lightens up on the sucking up and just cracks wise while providing tactical support for the Blooms. I'm also intrigued to find out how they are able to utilize Leo in future episodes, as I found him to be a rather engaging character.
As for the action sequences, they seemed to be in keeping with typical Abrams' style and accompanied by the Alias…er Lost…er Fringe….um…soundtrack. (Michael Giacchino has a very distinct and consistent sound as a composer, does he not?) .
Something that did mildly bother me was how I couldn't completely wrap my head around the fact that since these two have been out of the spy game for five years, their skills haven't rusted. I guess Stephen did struggle somewhat against his opponent atop that hotel, but he was able to crack that bank encryption awfully fast for having been away so long. (Really? Information Security hasn't improved in FIVE years?)
And perhaps parachuting and lock picking are theoretically akin to riding a bike? Like I said, not a huge issue for me, but it did cross my mind.
As enjoyable as the pilot was, I couldn't help but have this nagging feeling that it was teetering dangerously close to USA Network territory, lacking a real sense of danger. I love the shows on USA, they're entertaining, light and frothy, but this is J.J. Freakin' Abrams we're talking about.
I'm afraid I may not be able to resist making comparisons between Undercovers and Abrams' earlier spy-show Alias - but with the latter pilot, the premise was built on a high-risk scenario, that of a double agent working to take down the terrorist organization that duped her. There was always this palatable sense of dread in the first season: "Who can Sydney trust? Is she going to be found out?"
And it also had some of the best weekly cliffhangers I've ever seen in a series, as well as a notorious "big bad" in Arvin Sloane. Not that I think Undercovers needs to go ripping storylines directly from Alias, but since this is a spy series, carrying the Abrams brand, I would like to see some similar stakes-upping occur... pronto!
I really don't want to see this show become another storyline-neatly-wrapped-in-a-bow-each-week procedural. Thus far, I'm willing to come back purely on the basis of the charming cast and the infinite possibilities, but my interest could wane significantly if the story does not become more gripping. How about you?
Review a few Undercovers quotes from the episode as you weigh in.
Jeffrey Kirkpatrick is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.