Undercovers Series Premiere Review: A Slight Letdown

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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.  

The Blooms

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.

Undercovers Pilot Pic

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.

Review

Editor Rating: 3.5 / 5.0
  • 3.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 3.8 / 5.0 (70 Votes)

Jeffrey Kirkpatrick is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.

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I thik the show needs to stop making Stephen Samantha's flunky - when they go on missions she takes the lead. They need to add a little conflict like Mr & Mrs Smith where they had two distinct styles of running a mission not Stephen passively following Sam's lead. That will spice it up along with Hoyt lessening up on the idol worship of Stephen and developing Leo's character would add a nice element

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I think this show has great potential. It's nice to see a beautiful couple who's successful, love each other, has some fun, and can kick ass and they don't look like the typical leading actors we see over and over and over again. Variety is great in all aspects! Every new show is the same show just done with different people or a different twist. If we're going to see law shows, cop shows, spy shows, etc. over and over again - it's nice to at least have one with an ethnic leading cast. By the way - I'm white and I get tired of seeing the same white types every single show - guess what - it gets old.

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I was grateful to see your blog,lots of interesting stuff here.

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I grateful to see your blog, Thanks for sharing this.

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Yeah it was kind of a lot of fluff...nothing of much substance yet....and the shooting one guy 8 times and wasting all your ammo unrealistic stuff is kind of a put off for me so far. The rocket launcher at the end of the last action sequence didn't' really do it for me...i think Nathen Fillion could have pulled that off...but so far its hard for me to suspend my belief on this. There were some funny moments though like when the gun smuggler undresses her her and he's like "ok you are really crazy now" that was pretty hilarious. Someone besides the bad guys lackey should have died...thats was entirely predictable and boring....maybe the code breaker i dunno someone to make them seem less vulnerable.

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I have to agree with the review, I think the show does have potential, but if it's going to last it needs to become more of a drama. IMO the comedy was way too much and it I think the characters will instantly become unrelatable if there are not hard obsticles for the characters to face. I know it seems Abrams wanted to make something different compared to Alias, but I think Alias didn't get the recognition it deserved because it was in any way a bad show, it was because of the time slot shifting and airing schedule and because people were not ready for Abrams types of story telling, but now I think it is expected. With out character development and intriguing plots, this show is going to be the exact same every week and it will nothing like the rest of Abrams and Co's other great works.

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Agreed. And now J.J. has announced two new pilot ideas? One involving Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson, which sounds cool but he is spreading himself way too thin. The thing that made Alias so great in its first two seasons was JJ was hands on. It was his baby to nurture. Once he left to make Mission Unwatchable III, the quality began to slide.

Richy

Hmmm, not sure if I have the time or attention span for another spy tv show, granted I'm only watching Chuck this season I don't know if Undercovers has the charm/wit to keep me entertained like Chuck has.

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JJ has gone to great lengths to throw "Alias" under the bus (see his promo tour for "Fringe"). The short list is he had trouble following "Alias" and "Alias" wasn't user-friendly for uncommitted (aka casual) viewers. By design, therefore, "Undercovers" is destined to be an Underachiever. The pilot, if stacked up next to "Truth Be Told", was embarrassing, which may be why it wasn't given a title. Your comment about this show having a USA Network was bang on, as was demonstrated this summer by the disappointing (aka lame) "Covert Affairs". All fluff, no guts. In fairness to USA, I must say that I enjoy "Burn Notice", although even BN doesn't hold a candle to "Alias". To me, "Undercovers" is a sign that JJ isn't hungry for greatness the way he was 10 years ago.