Saturday, September 25, 2010

TV PILOT REVIEW: NBC's "Undercovers"

Promoted as the televised version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, JJ Abrams's latest action series barely lives up to its predecessor.

While no one expected the complete allure of the scandal-boosted Brangelina to be replicated on screen, there was expectation for at least a similar dynamic. I see the potential for Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw to develop that undeniable chemistry, but as of right now, calling each other honey, getting jealous of each other's sexpionage, and kissing before every mission isn't enough. The characters needed the movie's set-up. Instead of giving "Law & Order: SVU" the two-hour premiere treatment, NBC should've greenlit a 2-hour premiere for "Undercovers." In it Abrams could've constructed a parallel storyline: the present, where they're being re-recruited, and the past, when they first met and began to fall in love. If this series is going to work, it can't just be about the missions. They need to first convince us that these two are destined so that we root for them, not only individually, but as a team. Right now, it reads as a miniseries instead of a 5+ season series. Sure, they hinted at a conspiracy around why they were really asked to return and it's pretty suspect as to why they're being given free reign, but that's still not enough to get viewers invested and make it appointment TV.

Another soar spot is the supporting cast. While the ass-kissing hero-worshipper (Ben Schwartz from "Parks & Recreation") is pretty amusing and thankfully not a bumbling idiot when it comes to his job, the addition of he catering sister (Mekia Cox from "90210") is pretty lackluster.

Even though she serves as their token civilian for future kidnappings and revelations, she also seems like an unnecessary distraction. Guest stars, famous or not, won't fill the void this supporting cast leaves. Half of Chuck's appeal is that it has a Morgan, a Casey, a Lester, a Jeff, etc. It seems like instead of "wasting" money on more actors, they've pooled all of their funds into location. One of the great aspects of the series is the cinematography, locations, and art direction—those postcard transitions are pretty clever.

Its other saving grace is that its leading actors are newbies to the mainstream market. I think one of the reasons shows like "Chuck," "Covert Affairs," "White Collar," and "Burn Notice" have done so well is because viewers like to discover new talent, and every week you're growing increasingly impressed by the actor's acting abilities. But will it be enough to compete against ABC's comedy block? I think it would've been better off running in the summer. Less competition and less pressure.


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