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TV Review: J.J. Abrams-Produced ‘Undercovers’ is Stylish, Familiar

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CHICAGO – The timing of “Undercovers” might be inopportune — the notion of CIA super spies adding to the deficit by overextending their expense accounts — yet the show itself is bright and exciting with beautiful actors and settings. But despite the presence of J.J. Abrams of “Lost,” it doesn’t break any new ground.

HollywoodChicago.com Television Rating: 3.5/5.0
Television Rating: 3.5/5.0

The amazingly named actors Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw are introduced as gorgeous husband-and-wife CIA spooks named Steven and Samantha Bloom, if those are their real names. Presented as happy upper middle-class caterers, it becomes apparent that there is more to them than meets the eye candy. “Undercovers” premieres on NBC on Wednesday, September 22nd, at 7pm CST.

Meet the Blooms: Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Samantha and Boris Kodjoe as Steven in ‘Undercovers’
Meet the Blooms: Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Samantha and
Boris Kodjoe as Steven in ‘Undercovers’
Photo credit: NBC

The premiere of the action show opens with a desperate chase. Leo Nash (Carter MacIntyre) is running from bizarrely masked marauders at a Paris Hotel. It is a shoot-’em-up that leads to the roof of the epic building, where Nash ditches some high level flash drive (dang, it used to be laundered money) and is immediately taken into custody by Russian operatives.

This leads to a visit at the Bloom’s catering company by Carlton Shaw (Gerald McRaney), a deep-down CIA captain who requires the services of the ex-spies to free the captured Nash. Steven and Samantha have been out of the game for five years, and the impatient Shaw presents them with a put up or shut up opportunity to work together for the first time.

From Madrid to Moscow, the caterers-turned-agents immediately are comfortable back in the espionage, even gaining a sycophantic super-assistant named Bill Hoyt (Ben Schwartz). Can they find Nash in time and decode the secret of the Flash Drive, while maintaining their impeccable wardrobe and washboard abs? Unless you’ve never gone to the movies or watched a spy show, that answer is (the pair also speak several languages) “oui.”

This is cinematic-style entertainment, a Nick and Nora Charles for the post millennium. Don’t know that reference? How about “True Lies”? The set-up and structure of “Undercovers” bears a remarkable resemblance to the James Cameron epic. The attractive couple, the exotic locales, the overwhelming anti-crime technology, a wacky aide-de-camp and even a fancy party that the couple crashes, all reminders of the earlier film.

The performers, however, are fresh on the scene and are nicely balanced by the curmudgeonly Gerald McRaney. His ominous presence has morphed from Major Dad to his current crabby spy bureaucrat, his opening scene with the couple should be sent to the Emmy committee for its sheer irascibility. Kodjoe and Mbatha-Raw have an ease and chemistry with each other that is smooth, perhaps too smooth. Ben Schwartz is necessary comic relief, the joke is he admires Steven far more than the luscious Samantha.

Secret Agent Man: Boris Kedjoe as Steven Bloom in ‘Undercovers’
Secret Agent Man: Boris Kedjoe as Steven Bloom in ‘Undercovers’
Photo Credit: NBC-TV

A slight setback may be the typical spy situations in an age where thinking about it as entertainment is more difficult. There is a torture scene done television style, where a broken finger and jawbreaker punch is met with more snarky commentary from Nash. What, no joyous waterboarding? There is an absurd fight on the Paris rooftop between Steven and a Russian henchman, that devolves into somebody getting sand thrown into their face. Really.

But this is escapist fare and escaping with this couple wouldn’t be the worst way to spend an hour. It’s likable enough and the performances make it fun. It’s just too bad Abrams didn’t bring anything unique to the table. Hopefully one of the Bloom’s later assignments will be to decipher Seasons 3 and 4 of “Lost.”

”Undercovers” premieres Wednesday, September 22nd at 8pm EST/7pm CST on NBC. Featuring Boris Kodjoe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Gerald McRaney and Ben Schwartz, produced by J.J Abrams.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2010 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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