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Home > Entertainment, Film / TV, Quick Hits, Review / Recap > Quick Hits: Pilot Season — Undercovers

Quick Hits: Pilot Season — Undercovers

September 23rd, 2010

It’s Pilot season in America. There certainly seems to be more shows that at least have the potential to be intriguing. There’s the can’t miss in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the LOST clone in NBC’s The Event, the waiting-to-see-if-it-can-deliver in AMC’s The Walking Dead and a host of other intriguing new shows. I may not drop thoughts on all of them, but I will try to give my initial thoughts on some of those that catch my eye. On Tuesday, I reviewed NBC’s The Event. Today is NBC’s spy series, Undercovers.

While The Event was marketed directly as a LOST clone, Undercovers isn’t really promoted as a direct draw on a prior show.  That said, it has a feel that draws directly off of two recent shows: the currently running Chuck and the since departed Alias.

Relative newcomers Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw star in and carry Undercovers quite effectively.

Undercovers is the latest draw from the team over at Bad Robot (JJ Abram’s production company that produced such smash hits as Alias, LOST, Cloverfield and Star Trek).  The basic plot line is part Mr. & Mrs. Smith, brought to the small screen.  Steven and Samantha are married former CIA agents who left the life in order to run a catering company and have a quiet marriage.  The gag about Samantha’s sister trying to add pork to the menu at an Orthodox Jewish wedding aside, the pilot script isn’t weighed down by anything unnecessary.  This show knows what it is and what it has to rely on: light-hearted spy action and sexiness.

The show has no pretenses for higher level, deep plot lines.  While LOST is the standard bearer there, even Alias extended down the rabbit hole with the Rambaldi story arcs.  No such worries here.  Yes, there are going to be overriding story arcs over the entirety of the show’s run — e.g., the handlers indicate that Sam and Steve might not really be working for the CIA, a plot line run through with Alias and also the unaffiliated Rubicon (click here for my Rubicon posts).  Yet this seems secondary to the real point of the show.

We’re likely to get self contained story lines as the focal point with a hefty dose of Q style spy tech, well constructed action sequences, and light hearted banter between the show’s stars, who are a ridiculously good looking couple in a Zoolander kind of way.

Click on through for some quick hits.

What makes the show most unique is that it is the first big budget Network drama of its sort to have a distinct African American flair in its star base.  One would like to wish that this wasn’t the case, but I can’t recall a similar marquee show on a Network that entrusted the show entirely to African American leads.  What’s nice is that the producers don’t feel bound to let that define the show.  These are spies who are African American, not Shaft spawns who exist within stereotypes.

In any respect, the show does remind me a lot of Chuck and Alias.  The comparisons to the former rest in the light-hearted nature of the banter and character interaction.  There’s a level of cuteness or coyness in the dialogue — best exemplified by people transcending stressful situations with “fun”-talk.  Much as with Chuck, you don’t have to really fear for the lives or well-being of main characters.  In many shows, you can assume the main characters are going to survive and be just fine based on the TV Anthropic principle (that a show’s main character must survive or he or she cannot be a main character of a show, such that the existence of the character guarantees its wellbeing).  In a show like Chuck or Undercovers, you don’t need the TV Anthropic principles because any harm would be too dark for either of those.  It’s meant to be happy spy entertainment and stress doesn’t work there.

The show also reminds of Alias due to its action component.  Alias featured Jennifer Garner kicking ass, and I think it’s safe to say that we’re bound to see Boris Kodjoe (as Steven) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as Samantha) taking people down with reckless abandon.  The action in the premiere was good and furious without really being violent (the modern day version of the G.I. Joe rule of violence — you never actually see the really bad stuff).  Also, as with Alias, we’re likely to see self-contained mission style episodes.

The ad banner almost evokes a Charlie's Angels feel. That might actually be a better comparison than Chuck or Alias.

Now for some quick hits.

  • The show was well scored and well acted, for what it is.  This is far from high art and anyone who signs up for something as deep even as Alias will be disappointed.  One is probably more likely to get some satisfaction in that regard from Odd Jobs, the just announced show featuring Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson (Locke and Ben Linus from LOST) as former spies who team up.
  • JJ Abrams eschewed his longtime good luck charm Greg Grunberg (who appeared in Alias as a regular and was the pilot in the pilot for LOST).  I believe he’s appeared in most all Bad Robot features.  In Undercovers, Abrams played dangerously and merely cast in a supporting role Bradley Grunberg, Greg’s brother.
  • If you’re wondering about the main cast, Kodjoe is best known for the Bruce Willis vehicle Surrogates and the 3D movie Resident Evil: Afterlife, which is currently in theatres.  I’ve not actually seen anything he’s been in so far.  Mbatha-Raw is not a newcomer, but it is the first I’ve ever seen of the British actress, as well.  Providing a bit more stability is veteran actor Gerald McRaney who’s seemingly been in everything.  All three were good in the pilot, though the script asks less for real acting transformations and more for just conveying fun.
  • The show seemed to work quite well for what it is, which I consider to be an alternative to Chuck which switches geekery to bakery.  The production value is high and the cast is ridiculously attractive.  In other words, people who want mindless fun and pretty people to look at have found a show that will probably work for them.
  • There’s the problem for me: I used to watch Chuck, but it just got too mindless.  I don’t dislike Chuck.  I haven’t removed the DVR Season Pass, but instead just never get around to watching the episodes.  That’s sort of the same vibe as I got here.  I just don’t see this show piquing my interest in a cerebral manner, which has recently become a prerequisite for committing TV watching energy.

All in all, I give Undercovers a B, but not for me.  It’s definitely worth giving a look-see and determining for yourself if it clicks.  If you like Chuck enough to want a second take on it or if you want to see a more diverse landscape in the Network big time dramas, give Undercovers a chance.

  1. admin
    September 23rd, 2010 at 18:17 | #1

    So that’s what happens when you don’t proof your own posts before they go live. Dang I had a lot of typos in there.

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