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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
(written by J.J. Abrams & Josh Reims; directed by J.J. Abrams; TRT: 52:51)
The network's description: "Acclaimed writer/producer/director J.J. Abrams ("Star Trek," "Fringe," "Lost," "Alias") serves as co-writer, executive producer - and also directs - his first direction of a TV series pilot since "Lost" in "Undercovers" with executive producer/writer Josh Reims ("Brothers and Sisters"). "Undercovers" is a sexy, fun, action-packed spy drama that proves once and for all that marriage is still the world's most dangerous partnership. Outwardly, Steven Bloom (Boris Kodjoe, "Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion," "Soul Food," "Resident Evil: Afterlife") and his wife, Samantha (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, "Doctor Who," "Bonekickers"), are a typical married couple who own a small catering company in Los Angeles and are helped by Samantha's easily frazzled younger sister, Lizzy (Jessica Parker Kennedy, "Smallville"). Secretly, the duo were two of the CIA's best spies until they fell in love on the job five years ago and retired.
When fellow spy and friend Nash (Carter MacIntyre, "American Heiress") goes missing while on the trail of a Russian arms dealer, the Blooms are reinstated by boss Carlton Shaw (Gerald McRaney, "Deadwood") to locate and rescue Nash. The pair is thrust back into the world of espionage as they follow leads that span the globe -- and Steven and Samantha realize that this supercharged, undercover lifestyle provides the excitement and romance that their marriage has been missing. Also starring is Ben Schwartz (NBC's "Parks and Recreation"). "Undercovers" is from Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with Bad Robot Productions and Warner Bros. Television. The pilot was written by J.J. Abrams & Josh Reims and directed by Abrams. Abrams, Reims and Bryan Burk ("Fringe," "Lost, "Alias") are the executive producers."
What did they leave out? It's practically "Alias 2.0." And it runs a little longer than your usual pilot.
The plot in a nutshell: It's been five years since Steven (Boris Kodjoe) and Samantha Bloom (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) left the CIA. In that time they've built themselves a relatively normal, happy life as caterers alongside Samantha's sister Lizzy (Jessica Parker Kennedy). And so when Agent Carlton Shaw (Gerald McRaney), under the auspices of an international hotel chain wanting to hire them as consultants, approaches them about returning to the Service, they decline, citing the life they've worked so hard to create here in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, Shaw's visit manages to bring the unspoken malaise between them to the surface and before long they're both on board. Their mission: Samantha's old partner/Steven's old training buddy Leo Nash (Carter MacIntyre) has gone missing - and potentially rogue - while hunting down Alexander Schlotsky, a Russian arms dealer, and the Blooms are the only ones with potential insight into where he might be or what he may be up to.
They pick up Leo's trail in Madrid ("Alias"-esque title cards, in the form of postcards, are used for location transitions), where they're joined by Bill Hoyt (Ben Schwartz), their quirky operations assistant and unabashed fan of Steven's. Together they go through the usual spy procedural mechanizations - breaking into a bank here to gain access to security footage, crash a wedding there to find a contact of Leo's, etc. - all in the name of finding the truth about their old friend. It's exciting work and makes their blood pump in a way they haven't felt in while, let alone seen each other. And so - after finding Leo and the truth behind his disappearance - a new status quo is established: caterers by day, spies by night, hot and heavy all the time. (Was that too cheesy?)
What works: There are so many moments that feel straight out of "Alias" it's almost disconcerting. For instance, the opening teaser - in which Leo tries to avoid capture - might as well be the opening to one of Sydney Bristow's adventures. Abrams, as expected, brings his usual flair to the proceedings: big brassy score, camera lens flares and a knack for going from fun to perilous at every turn. Kodjoe and Mbatha-Raw are as good-looking and charming as advertised as the Blooms "Hart to Hart" their way through their spy adventures. She's annoyed by Bill's sycophancy towards Steven's legendary record; he's annoyed by Leo's history with Samantha; and together they jockey for position on who will be doing what on their missions. It's a fun mix, once that we get the sense will become all the more entertaining as the show progresses.
What doesn't: Those expecting a genre busting, paradigm shifting show like "Lost" or "Alias" are going to be disappointed. It's a surprisingly light series as there is no larger story going on and there are no "genre" elements. In fact the only "flair" if you can call it that is a critical USB drive Leo carries looks a lot like a certain "Bad Robot." To that end, it's not particularly memorable - the villains are decidedly paper tigers while Samantha and Steven, despite being five years removed from field work, never appear to be in any real danger. Throw in their eye-rolling homefront foibles - Lizzy calls during key moments to complain she's overwhelmed! - and if this wasn't Abrams, I don't think I'd be as confident about its prospects. After all he's flexing a different kind of muscle here, one that looks like something he's done before but with a far less ambitious payoff.
The bottom line: I'm in, I just wanted to be more excited that I'm in.