Wednesday, July 14, 2010

“Covert Affairs”: Entertaining, Alias Lite

Photo USA Network
”Covert Affairs” is a new spy drama on USA Network, and it is very reminiscent of the ABC show “Alias”. The only thing missing is Alias’ infamous “Rambaldi” conspiracy. The star of Covert Affairs, Piper Perabo, looks very much like Alias star Jennifer Garner, almost as if she could be her little sister. Despite the similarities, the show seems a fresh, new, and updated version, with “lite” tones and themes.

Since pilot episodes usually move quickly to establish the premise of the story and the lead character, Annie Walker's (Perabo) getting into the CIA seemed far too easy. This CIA is also seemingly staffed with mostly young and attractive people, the youth part explained by a hiring freeze after 9/11 and then a release of the freeze which allowed for an influx of young talent. This does not explain why everyone who works at the CIA seems very attractive.

Annie makes quick friends with another worker, CIA analyst Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham) who is the stereotypical television blind person who seems to have magical powers of seeing and understanding everything around him, able to read everything by smell and sounds and other mysterious ways. Auggie also seems to be able to read what is on his computer screen using some sort of Braille interface. This was a little hard to believe – not the Braille interface itself, it’s more of the volume of information that passes over the screen at the time he accesses the data that I can’t believe he can really absorb it all via Braille. He and Annie later share a drink at the local bar, where they also meet up with another worker at the CIA (his name now escapes me) who seems to pop up a little too frequently when Annie is around.

Annie is assigned a case of getting intel from a Russian spy, who is later killed in a spray of gunfire when Annie is in the hotel room making the exchange. Annie doesn’t get the intel and pretends to be a call girl to attempt to get the data a second time, right under the noses of the FBI and police. The intel turns out to be worthless and the dead Russian spy not who he said he was. The real Russian spy faked his death to allow him to proceed unimpeded to an assassination attempt, which of course Annie easily foils.

While all this is going on, we find that marital problems exist between CIA Director of Clandestine Services Arthur Campbell (Peter Gallagher) and his wife Joan (Kari Matchett) who also has a high level CIA job and is Annie’s boss. Arthur is also working to identify a leak within his organization, because every spy series has to have some sort of leak or mole in the organization. It’s an overused plot device and my guess it could very well be that annoying guy that works at the CIA (I also think he works for Arthur) who keeps popping up whenever Annie is around.

We also see a flashback of Annie with a lover who left her with a cryptic apology note after a whirlwind vacation romance. She later believes she saw him save her life from the Russian spy. Joan tells her it was someone else who saved her, but later we find that Annie’s lover is known to the CIA as Ben Mercer (Eion Bailey) and it seems the CIA is using Annie to draw out Mercer.

Annie also has a family life, living with a sister’s (played by Anne Dudek) family. Of course, every “spy” needs to have a family life that is unaware of her secret, double life as a CIA agent. My guess is at a later time, some family member will be in danger in the course of Annie's work, because families are usually there to be used as pawns to futher the spy story.

All in all, while the show seems a close copy of the ABC show Alias (sans Rambaldi) and has a lot of the same trite spy plot lines, the series provides plenty of action and mystery to keep viewers interested. Sure, it is lite viewing, but USA Network seems to be the king when it comes to creating shows that are easy to digest. It may take a few more episodes before I can decide whether this show wants to be a serious drama/action spy show, or more of a light drama/soap opera spy show. Regardless, I was entertained in this first episode and it left me with a feeling that this series has more to offer, and it may be another big win for USA Network.

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