I’ve been slacking off this summer on episode recaps and weekly reviews. And with a flurry of season finales currently coinciding with a slate of series premieres, this seems like a good opportunity to chime in on how some series fared, and how some new ones look. Next up: “Covert Affairs.” Caution, spoilers ahead.
USA’s “Covert Affairs” was the breakout hit of the summer, at least for me (the rest of the country was busy watching “Rizzoli & Isles”). A bit of an “Alias”-lite, it was a smart, light action/drama about a new CIA agent learning the ropes, set against an endless series of intrigue, closed-door politics and betrayals. Yet despite all the underlying darkness, it remained fun.
What I liked: The tone of the show remained light, often literally. Spy shows usually take place in the shadows or at night, all the better to stay hidden and mysterious. But USA dramas have a “blue skies” theme (you’ll also notice it in “Burn Notice” and “White Collar”) where the action is largely shot in the daytime, under sunny, blue skies. It’s subtle, but it lightens the mood and makes a show feel more expansive, or at least less claustrophobic. It worked really well in “Covert Affairs,” helping create an upbeat atmosphere that felt, well, summery. But Piper Perabo was the biggest ingredient to the light tone. She was a perfect fit as Annie, the fresh recruit thrown into action. Her confident charm, sense of humor and girl-next-door appeal made her character instantly likable and easy to root for. The supporting cast was great too, especially Auggie (Christopher Gorham), the blind tech savant; Joan (Kari Matchett), Annie’s no-nonsense boss; and Jay (Sendhil Ramamurthy), fellow spy and the Indian George Clooney. The writing was consistently intelligent, the dialogue was snappy and the action came fast and furiously. It was a fun show, plain and simple. And did you notice how little Annie fired a gun? Come to think of it, I’m not sure she ever did. That takes some creativity, not taking the easy route to an action scene. It’s also realistic because CIA agents don’t typically carry guns. As a moderately intelligent viewer, I appreciate that.
What I didn’t like: The series made a conscious effort to be more realistic than previous spy shows, but it still often fell short. I realize things may have changed after 9/11, but I think half the missions Annie went on would have been illegal. Like, the CIA doesn’t spy on senators, for one. (Or if they do, they do it super, super secretly.) I also didn’t quite understand the whole thing with Annie’s ex, Ben. Maybe I missed something in the finale, but what’s he been doing the past two years? Working against the CIA, or cleaning up the messes the CIA had him do? And the way he was always around to save Annie in the nick of time was kinda cheesy. Was he just following her in his spare time? But whatever, it’s not supposed to be a documentary. As long as it’s fun to watch, I’ll allow some leeway. I also kinda resented how the reporter was cast as the bad guy for wanting to expose the deep, dark secrets of the CIA, but that’s just because I’m a newspaper guy. I tend to root for the reporters.
Bottom line: It wasn’t the deepest or most emotionally resonating thing on TV, but it was a whole lot of fun. Of everything I watched over the summer, I think this was the series I enjoyed the most. Sounds like it won’t back for a second season until next summer; that’ll be a looooong wait.
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