There was a lot to enjoy about the pilot episode of Undercovers, the new spy drama from TV demi-god J.J. Abrams. Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw were almost illegally charming, and possessed a sparkly old-married-couple chemistry. The hour-long premiere, directed by Abrams, was a handsome production that zipped around the world – Madrid! Paris! Moscow! – but still found time to pause for character moments. (Best throwaway player: the Parisian street vendor who’s secretly the best code-cracker in Europe.) As in most Abrams productions, everyone seemed to be flirting with everyone, which gave the dialogue a smirky polish. Also, Mbatha-Raw loaded and fired a bazooka while driving down a Russian freeway. What’s not to like?
Nothing. Nothing is not to like. Undercovers seems to be easily the larkiest show Abrams has ever created – and that’s part of the problem.
There’s nothing to really distinguish Undercovers from earlier crimesolving SO’s – like Hart to Hart or the underrated Standoff. The Blooms have a perfectly functional marriage. That’s not a bad thing: we could use more happy couples on TV. But at least in the premiere, the world they explored seemed to just fold around them way, way too easily. They had all the niftiest spy equipment (like the cufflink camera), but the plot was retro-simple: trigger-happy blond-haired Russians who lurk in pipe factories, silly family members who don’t ask questions when you disappear for a week, codes that can be cracked in about three seconds…yeesh, even Gerald McRaney – as a very gruff, very Gerald McRaney-like CIA agent – had a total braincrush on the Blooms before the first hour was finished.
Despite a very different tone, the Undercovers pilot felt a lot like the series premiere of Fringe: lots of globe-hopping, lots of speed, no real sense that the show is anything more than a zippier version of an ’80s action hour. Fringe quickly found its footing, and I’m willing to stick it out with Undercovers to see if it does the same. The show might have something intriguing to say about marriage: Samantha and Steven have never talked about their CIA lives, so there’s a fun element of marital mystery. In the premiere, Steven learned that one of his best friends used to date Samantha. Drama? Not really. They tracked down his friend, rescued him from the Evil Blond Russian, and had a good laugh about it. All that was missing was a final thumbs-up freeze-frame.
Did you watch Undercovers? Am I being too harsh on a show for being only a lot of fun? Can we all agree that we need to see less of the fawning Hoyt and more of McRaney? (Best line of the night: “Do I look like a Chan? Or a Finkelstein?”)