Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Covert Affairs": Full of Surprises

It's not a new premise, really, a brand new CIA field agent at the start of his or her career. I watched the pilot episode of "Covert Affairs" with a bit of reservation, but even though the idea isn't groundbreaking, I was pleasantly surprised by this spy action-drama that seems to be aimed a bit more at a female audience than previous incarnations of the genre.

The surprise started with the appearance of Christopher Gorham ("Ugly Betty," "Popular" and the incomparable "Jake 2.0," which was really kind of a "Chuck" 1.0) as blind CIA analyst Auggie Anderson. One of his opening lines hits the nail on the head: "A blind guy showing you around the CIA..."

Then another thick eyebrow-ed actor (Peter Gallagher; actually, he and Gorham look a bit alike. I wonder what that could mean for future developments...) appeared as Arthur Campbell, some kind of CIA supervisor whose wife Joan (Kari Matchett) has a similarly vague but important job.

Actually, Joan probably had the best line in the whole episode. When Piper Perabo's CIA newbie Annie Walker is preparing to go undercover as a call girl (why is it that whenever a woman in a movie or TV show has to be in disguise it's always as a hooker or a stripper or some other female-objectifying archetype?), she asks, "Do I need a costume or something?" and Joan deadpans, "Hookers in D.C. are pretty conservative. What you're wearing now is fine."

The rest of the surprises can best be expressed in the following manner:

1. Ooh! Leboutins!
Annie wears the iconic red-soled shoes, a pair of sleek and simple black pumps, for her undercover assignment, a transfer of information with a Russian contact. The contact is shot and killed by a sniper, and Annie loses her shoes in a mad-dash escape from the sniper fire. Don't worry, she gets them back, meeting a cute FBI agent in the process.

2. Ooh! Sexual Tension!
With the cute FBI agent, and maybe with the blind analyst? It's hard to tell at this point. Gorham is not what I would call "leading man handsome," but he has a certain appeal, and his character and Annie seem to get along famously. Of course, that could put them in the friend zone. After all, there are plenty of TV male-female duos that always stayed completely platonic: Mulder and Scully, Tony and Angela, Dr. Quinn and Sully...

3. Ooh! Witty Banter!
While bonding over a beer after a hard day of spyin', Annie tells Auggie her story in a self-reflective, insightful sound byte of a personal history. He then tells her that she fits the "profile" of the typical CIA recruit, in a very charming and witty way, of course.

4. Ooh! Car Chase!
'Nuff said.

5. Ooh! A Wise and Perceptive Older African American Character!
Annie goes to one of her former language professors at Georgetown for help with her case, but she can't tell him what she's really doing, of course. It turns out that something the "Russian" contact said to her during their brief meeting wasn't really in Russian; he was speaking Estonian. Hm, suspicious... So, of course the rookie agent knows more than her supervisor; I wouldn't expect any different. So, Annie has to strike out on her own with only the help of her trusty sidekick and her MacGyver-like wits to prove her theory.

6. Ooh! Intrigue!
And then, of course, it turns out that the cute Spanish guy she met at the very beginning is the real Russian agent (never waste a meet cute!) and he tries to kill her. She is saved, though, in the nick of time by her long-lost lover whom she met in Sri Lanka, though she can't be sure it was him because it happened so fast and then he disappeared again.

Back at the CIA, the all-knowing Joan and Arthur privately discuss young Annie's progress and potential, revealing that they have been watching her for far longer than we thought. And then, in a total "Say Anything" moment, except without the boom box, we see Annie's long-lost love sitting in his car and gazing longingly at her bedroom window. ("It IS him! It IS!")

All in all, a solid start. There were enough twists to keep me guessing and laughs to keep it light, but not frothy. Of course, my knowledge of "Alias" has me wondering if Annie is really working for the CIA, or if it's actually some shady assassins' operation. As long as there are no dead fiances in bathtubs of blood, I'm good.


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