Friday, July 16, 2010

Pilot Review: Covert Affairs

Covert Affairs (USA)
Premiered July 13 at 10pm

I want to like this show. I’m a big fan of spy-related thrillers, and I did enjoy “Alias” a few years back. While the creative people behind this show may insist that the two aren’t alike, the comparisons are obvious. This first super-sized episode feels a lot more like the part of “Alias” that was only ever revealed in the thirty-second intro to each episode and in brief flashbacks, where she underwent her training before becoming an awesome spy. Even if Sydney Bristow didn’t have the first clue about SD-6 in the pilot, she certainly knew how to handle herself in an operation. The biggest problem with “Covert Affairs” can be summed up by a season five “Alias” episode title: “There’s Only One Sydney Bristow.” Jennifer Garner may not be the most talented thespian in the world, but she was born to play Sydney Bristow, and any actress who needs to assume false identities on a moment’s notice should look no further than “Alias” to learn everything they need to know. Piper Perabo is no Jennifer Garner. For the whole first episode, it feels like agent Annie Walker is operating on training wheels, and that’s due in large part to Perabo’s lackluster performance. Annie doesn’t present herself professionally, and I don’t think that’s what the show is going for in terms of establishing its lead character. This show would work one hundred times better with Sydney, and Garner for that matter, replacing Annie. Beyond its lead character, however, “Covert Affairs” has other unresolved issues. Marriage in the workplace on television is just as ill-advised as marriage in the workplace in real life, but hopefully Peter Gallagher (“The O.C.”) and Kari Matchett (“Invasion”) can make it work. They definitely both seem like intriguing characters more than capable of intimidating their subordinates. It’s fun to see Christopher Gorham (“Ugly Betty”) as blind tech guy Auggie, though at this point he’s hardly Marshall Flinkman. Perhaps it’s unfair to continually bring this show back to its inferiority to “Alias,” but it really does seem like a toned-down, less interesting version of that great ABC show. I’m willing to give this show another chance, but right now I’m feel pretty unengaged.

How will it work as a series? Annie does have her home life, but already in the first episode she ran into her sister’s friend in the middle of a mission, so I’m not sure how carefully the balance between personal life and work will be handled. The presence of a mysterious assassin from Annie and the CIA’s pasts could present the opportunity for a long-term thread, but this show may also benefit from weekly distractions in the form of episode-long missions.
How long will it last? I suspect that USA will give this show a chance considering the extensive promotional campaign they underwent in anticipation of this show’s premiere. The desire to constantly expand the Characters Welcome brand will probably overcome critical reception, and the only factor should be ratings, therefore likely securing this show a second season sometime soon.

Pilot grade: C+

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