'Undercovers' premiere: J.J. Abrams explores love and marriage (with bazookas, natch)

undercovers-boris-kodjoeImage Credit: Justin Lubin/NBCThere was a lot to enjoy about the pilot episode of Undercovers, the new spy drama from TV demi-god J.J. Abrams. Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw were almost illegally charming, and possessed a sparkly old-married-couple chemistry. The hour-long premiere, directed by Abrams, was a handsome production that zipped around the world — Madrid! Paris! Moscow! — but still found time to pause for character moments. (Best throwaway player: the Parisian street vendor who’s secretly the best code-cracker in Europe.) As in most Abrams productions, everyone seemed to be flirting with everyone, which gave the dialogue a smirky polish. Also, Mbatha-Raw loaded and fired a bazooka while driving down a Russian freeway. What’s not to like?

Nothing. Nothing is not to like. Undercovers seems to be easily the larkiest show Abrams has ever created — and that’s part of the problem. There’s nothing to really distinguish Undercovers from earlier crimesolving SO’s — like Hart to Hart or the underrated Standoff. The Blooms have a perfectly functional marriage. That’s not a bad thing: we could use more happy couples on TV. But at least in the premiere, the world they explored seemed to just fold around them way, way too easily. They had all the niftiest spy equipment (like the cufflink camera), but the plot was retro-simple: trigger-happy blond-haired Russians who lurk in pipe factories, silly family members who don’t ask questions when you disappear for a week, codes that can be cracked in about three seconds…yeesh, even Gerald McRaney — as a very gruff, very Gerald McRaney-like CIA agent — had a total braincrush on the Blooms before the first hour was finished.

Despite a very different tone, the Undercovers pilot felt a lot like the series premiere of Fringe: lots of globe-hopping, lots of speed, no real sense that the show is anything more than a zippier version of an ’80s action hour. Fringe quickly found its footing, and I’m willing to stick it out with Undercovers to see if it does the same. The show might have something intriguing to say about marriage: Samantha and Steven have never talked about their CIA lives, so there’s a fun element of marital mystery. In the premiere, Steven learned that one of his best friends used to date Samantha. Drama? Not really. They tracked down his friend, rescued him from the Evil Blond Russian, and had a good laugh about it. All that was missing was a final thumbs-up freeze-frame.

Did you watch Undercovers? Am I being too harsh on a show for being only a lot of fun? Can we all agree that we need to see less of the fawning Hoyt and more of McRaney? (Best line of the night: “Do I look like a Chan? Or a Finkelstein?”)

To find out how Undercovers did in the ratings, check out Lynette Rice’s ratings report in Hollywood Insider.

Comments (98 total) Add your comment
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  • gah

    i thought i posted but i guess not. i enjoyed the show. nbc needs to pair it with Chuck for spy night mondays. nothing is wrong with a purely fun show with a great looking cast!

    • DiMi

      Yeah! I loved it. Why is anybody acting like a revamp of Hart to Hart is a bad thing? That show was a long-term hit. I liked this show, it was fun, sexy, and had great action. I’m in.

  • the girl

    I loved this show and it easily won a season pass in my house. I believe this is something that will age nicely. I look forward to seeing what they do with it as the show matures. I also have a super girlcrush on Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Gorgeous.

    • Shaneal

      Totally agree with u:) Can’t wait to see how it progress.

    • Brett

      I’ve got a super guycrush on Gugu. I think Darren is nitpicking to the extreme. Not everything Abrams does has to be “Alias,” “Fringe,” or “Lost.”

  • mark in nyc

    did they use the word sexpionage a lot? That was the basis of their whole advertising campaign.

    • Nona

      I hate that word. Otherwise, it was a good pilot.

      • DiMi

        I think the sexpionage thing is funny. Remember, that’s what Sydney did in almost EVERY episode of Alias. I loved it that they named it, and that the hubby was jealous.

  • Jay

    I agree…it was a nice start, but I’m not quite hooked yet. Like you, Darren, I am hoping that it will “find it’s footing”. However, since the leads are so dang hot, I could forgive them almost anything!

    • Brenda Leigh

      I agree with you Jay, I didn’t see any riveting scenes that had me on the edge of my seat but I will continue to watch for a few more episodes to see if they can hook me. And I’m prob in the minority here but I don’t need to see them in bed. I wanna see them blowing up junk and whoppin bad guys’ a$$es!!!

      • Michelle

        You ARE in the minority. I always like seeing Boris Kodjoe in bed with no shirt.

    • SJ

      I’m also not hooked yet, but it’s definitely a decent show. I personally loved Fringe from the start, but I’m more into the sci fi side of things than the romance.

  • Sarah

    I was entertained the entire hour and will continue to watch. I didn’t expect the show to be this compelling, complex, well written show. It has two attractive people on spy missions blowing up stuff while traveling around the world. Good enough for me.

  • B

    We watched in my house and loved it. I was looking forward to this series from the time the first trailer was dropped and I wasn’t disappointed. Of course they seem like the “happy couple” right now.. the show JUST STARTED… There are going to be OBVIOUS issues that will occur with them getting back into the spy game. Case in point, when you could tell Steven is very jealous over Samantha, and since she IS the female partner, she’s probably going to have to do alot of “sexpionage” which after a while, will probably start to get to Steven. I’m totally stickin’ with it.

  • LTL

    Totally with you Darren. My money is also on the hope that it finds its footing and soon.

    In more shallow news, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that the leads are both half African and drop dead gorgeous! I am not giving up yet!

    • DiMi

      I love seeing a smart, sexy black couple on prime time television, in love and saving the world. I also like seeing a fierce woman who also loves to cook. They are both biracial with an African Parent and a European parent. Gugu’s British accent at the wedding was her real one – she’s English. Her American accent is flawless. Boris grew up in Germany, but he actually speaks four languages, including French so this show is a perfect match for him. He also has a flawless American and African American accent. I was really impressed by both of them. I’ll watch every episode.

  • Sabine

    i am hoping that this show finds it footing i usally love jj abrams (since alias) … so my hopes are high

  • Deborah

    I watched and I’m willing to give it a shot. I think the dialogue could be a bit snappier. The two leads are perfectly capable of handling it. They could have a running piece of tension by keeping the former boyfriend and have him pop up from time to time.
    Love the ditzy sister.

  • tjj50

    Considering Hart to Hart lasted about 5 or 6 seasons, it’s not such a bad thing to be light and zippy. I haven’t watched the ep on my DVR yet but plan to. It kind of sounds like it could fit right in with USA’s block of shows. Maybe if there were a storyline thread that wove through most of the shows, like the whole music box thing on “White Collar” that would make it more cohesive for you?

  • RK

    I prefer this when it is called Chuck.

    • sandd

      I can’t help but think of Chuck every time I see the preview for this either. :)

      • Rion

        I agree, and I don’t really like Chuck. I guess after 5 seasons of Alias, I just can’t get into a light-hearted spy show.

      • Brett

        Except the male lead in this show is much better looking than the lead in “Chuck,” and there’s none of the “will he or won’t he flash?” nonsense. Yes, one of the leads has a dimwitted sister like Chuck’s, but hopefully she won’t play as prominent a part in the storyline as Chuck’s sister. And, thus far, “Undercovers” hasn’t shown a predilection towards stunt casting, the crutch that “Chuck” fell on and continues to fall on this season.

    • Sla

      Because Chuck is/was so original?

    • Gina

      Yeah, it was amazing how Chuck invented television about spies. “Alias,” “The Man From UNCLE,” “I Spy” and “24” never existed. Your parallel universe is so like our own, and yet different.

      • Jay

        Don’t forget “Get Smart” and “The Saint”

      • Brett

        I understand “Chuck” is the Number 1 show in the “Fringe” alternate universe.

  • justin

    You’re being way too hard on the show, Darren. I, for one, loved the premiere. It was fun, action-packed, and dramatic. Gugu is fine as hell!!! I’m in for the long haul. Like Boris Kodjoe, too. Good actor IMO.

  • Sarah

    Also, I liked their assistant guy, he was pretty funny. Although, I didn’t think Leo(n?) made a very convincing spy.

    • Nona

      I liked the assistant guy, Hoyt(?) also!

      • Sara

        I loved him! I feel his character suffered from bad writing. The lines were pretty lame, but the actor who played Hoyt has a great sense of comedic timing. Did anyone else see him as Jean-Ralphio on Parks and Rec? Completely brilliant performance.

  • Sean S.

    In a world of NCIS, Law & Order, Criminal Minds and so many more, I actually found it very refreshing to watch an action/agents show that didn’t take itself so seriously. I enjoyed the banter,comedy and sexiness. Since Abrams is involved, I’m am sure the plots and characters will deepen with time as past secrets/new layers are revealed. I’m in.

    • thin

      So far, Abrams’ shows have definitely deepened as time went on, but they also started out feeling like there were depths there to be plumbed. This is the weakest premiere of anything from him that I’ve seen, which is probably why I was disappointed.

      • DiMi

        I think he’s still warming up to comedy, but I liked it and think it will keep getting stronger. Remember, Alias started out good and became Great over time.

  • chattypatra

    I’m sorry, what were you saying, Darren? I’m still under the influence of Boris Kodjoe’s face, smile, voice, abs…you get the picture. Thank you, JJ!

    • DiMi

      Yeah, I could basically spend an hour staring at him while he read the newspaper, and I’d be totally entertained.

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