I’ve gone through a whirlwind of emotions with J.J. Abrams’ new spy series, Undercovers. Throughout the development process, I was excited, and why wouldn’t I be? It’s J.J. Abrams! The beautiful looking clips released during upfronts convinced me it was going to be a fun little series. Then, as the summer progressed, NBC kept showing the same ads and using that awful sexpionage nonsense and I realized that NBC already has a super-fun spy series with a romantic entanglement at the center, and it’s called Chuck. I was out on Undercovers totally.
So begrudgingly I watched the pilot this evening before the Thursday madness began and in general, I liked it more than I thought I would. The series is absolutely weightless and has even less sense of stakes than Chuck, but the leads are fairly charming (though I think Boris Kodjoe is better than Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and boy is the pilot beautiful looking…but it’s still not very good.
What’s interesting is that the series doesn’t have an overwhelming sense of narrative or hook. We know that the Blooms are getting back in the spy game after being out for five years, but the secrets between the two of them seem minor and par-for-the-course based on their job. So the whole point of the series is about them rekindling the romance in their relationship that they lost as civilians, but by the end of the pilot, they’ve already done that. So what’s the reason to tune in for episode two? Sure, their relationship will continue to be complicated and I’m certain some minor secret will come back to bite them both in the rear, but there’s not a lot of meat on the bones.
And even in this episode itself, the plotting is minuscule. I know the Blooms get back in to save an old friend, but the nonsense with why said friend is there and the baddie that’s holding him hostage exists solely for J.J. Abrams to do some great location shooting in a number of great foreign locations. There’s a hint of overarching plot that involves the “real” reason why the Blooms are being pulled back in, but man that’s not a lot to go on moving forward.
In his write-up on the episode, Myles McNutt notes that the connotations of Abrams’ name automatically makes us wish for more from Undercovers. That’s absolutely true in every sense of the world. We’re automatically looking for mythology, secrets, intrigue and mystery and Undercovers has none of that. But even if we separate the series away from its producer/director’s name and pretend the series was put together by industry newbies, the pilot itself doesn’t have much to offer. I think Abrams’ name has more influence on our perceptions of the series in the long run because we expect a certain type of mythology and arching, but this effort doesn’t even work on its on to set up the inevitable disappointment.
I’ll still be watching Undercovers and probably writing it up in case it changes courses, but expect them to be short and full of frustration.