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Friday, 23 of April of 2021

Covert Affairs – “Pilot”

There’s complexity, and then there’s lying.”

Here’s a fun bit of trivia for you: Covert Affairs was the topic of the first post on this blog.  (Note how article totally gives away the ending of the pilot? Yeah, kind of killed the suspense for me.) Happily, I was correct in my general assessment of the show when the pilot was picked up by USA. The show is Burn Notice and White Collar, with obvious dashes of Alias sprinkled into the mix.

As a result, like most of USA’s programming, Covert Affairs is a solid, promising, and entertaining  show. It’s stylish, briskly paced, well-staged action sequences, and deft humor. What makes me worried is that those words also describe how I felt about White Collar at its start, and then it began a decline that led to a shoddy betrayal.

I’d really prefer that Covert Affairs not do that, but I see the potential for it to happen.

Since I have it on the brain, Covert Affairs slides very easily into the USA brand. Annie is hyper-competent (six languages, highest scores on some of her exams, gets to skip the last month of CIA training), the show has the sleek cinematography (probably the sleekest of any pilot on USA I’ve seen) and humor. And while there weren’t many blue skies to be seen between dodging bullets and breaking into morgues, Covert Affairs can work them in pretty easily (D.C. is a pretty city, after all).

And like many of the USA shows now, Covert Affairs has comes with a seasonal arc that can be dealt with in passing, and one that I’m already not all that interested in. Annie’s relationship is what ends up defining her (for better for worse) at the start of the episode. Sure, she’s sassy and smart, but she’s carrying this weight of a 3-year old ex-boyfriend with whom she had wild sex with in Sri Lanka for three weeks. The break-up spurred her on to join the CIA, and it turns out that her boyfriend, Ben, is wanted by the CIA, and she’s only being used by her bosses to ferret the guy out of hiding.

With that kind of an arc going, I’m waiting for the soft recruitment scene, when the CIA first approached Annie about joining. In essence, they’re running a long game on a promising agent, and without her knowledge, and Annie is in a position to, if she feels like abusing agency energies (her boss is okay with it, after all), to search for Ben as well. Given her clear attachment to the guy (still), I have no doubt that will be a competing issue as things develop.

But it’s kind of uninteresting, and a little too White Collar-y for me. The estranged/missing lover who lurks in the shadows isn’t all that engaging, even with the CIA looking for Ben in this case. While I’ve pushed on Burn Notice to bring its arc to the forefront a bit more, I hope that Covert Affairs deals only in passing with Ben for a long while.

And speaking of things that should only be dealt with in passing, Joan and Arthur’s martial woes need not be a recurring part of the show. I don’t mind a turf war, or two bosses who don’t care for each other, but unless they can offer some variation on this premise (hysterical, paranoid wife against smooth talking husband), I’m not sure why I need to care about what’s going on here.

Character-wise, Piper Perabo is solid in the show, though the staging and make-up seems eager to match her with Jennifer Garner in Alias (high cheekbones, pouty lips, lots of profile shots). On the upside, Perabo is enough of a name to draw people to the show but not enough of a star to have any persona baggage. This is essentially her chance to make it big (Coyote Ugly aside). The role still feels a little Sydney Bristwo at the moment, but that feels more like a writing issue than a performance issue, so hopefully we’re move beyond that. The only other actor given much to do is Christopher Gorham as the blind tech and intel guy Auggie. Gorham has fun playing blind and being a playa, and brings the show considerable charm and humor. While I don’t find that the intel and tech guy being blind all that much of a novelty (Sneakers, anyone?), Gorham makes it work well enough.

The rest of the cast is fairly limited as things stand. Kari Matchett as Joan just gets to look annoyed and be angry at either Annie or Peter Gallagher’s Arthur, and Gallagher gets to smooth talk and look cool (though his eyebrows seem to be restrained here, which is sad). Anne Dudek is a love of my life, and she is sadly given little to do other than rock the dress in the dinner party scene. I’d be fine with scaling back Matchett and Gallagher if it meant more Dudek. Agent Conrad, who is probably the newspaper mole, will be replaced by a character depicted by Heroes‘ Sendhil Ramamurthy, so I have no quibbles about not caring about Victor one iota.

So Covert Affairs is promising, and I’m not just saying that because every show I’ve selected to review this summer has been some form of boring or blah. It is genuinely good, with potential to be great. Just kill Ben quickly, okay?

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