You have to hand it to J.J. Abrams and the Bad Robot gang--they tend not to shoot for the same goal twice. It's sort of mind-blowing when you think of Cloverfield, LOST, Alias, Star Trek, and...Felicity(!) all coming from the same source. That's five hit pieces of pop culture right there, none of which really slide into a duplicated category or hit on the same parts of the palette.
And now, we've got UnderCovers, Abrams' new spy series. I'm resisting the urge to compare it to True Lies, Hart to Hart, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and even the later episodes of Alias...but it's all in there. This is pretty much a high-concept romantic comedy about keeping a marriage alive...while finding ways to kill people with explosives and performing espionage.
Also, there's catering. Here we go.
Samantha and Steven Bloom are CIA retirees, who met on the job, married, and left to start a successful catering business. When a CIA agent--and old flame of Sam's-- goes off the grid, they're called back into service. It's a gimmicky way to set things back into action, but it works. This show's a lot of fun.
The Blooms are both reluctantly approached by their former handler to help find Nash, the errant agent. The catch is that he approaches them both individually, and Steven agrees on the condition that his wife never finds out. The awkwardness comes in when he discovers she's already agreed and sitting right there. Oops.
And right there, in that moment of fun tension, is what makes this show work; this is a show that's about the seven-year-itch, the moment when a relationship needs to be redefined or re-energized. The joy of this show is watching Sam and Steven flirt with each other again, and rediscover their affection for one another while also kicking people really hard. They're also intent on keeping the catering business up and running, which is a lot of fun. When the pair infiltrate a high-class wedding, Sam (decked out in a gorgeous golden dress) immediately jumps into a cost analysis of the buffet and hors d'oeuvres, as Steven rolls his eyes and begins surveillance--it's a nice touch that reminds you that these adventurers are striking a balance between who they've become and who they used to be.
Maybe the most intriguing thing about this show is its lack of angst--Abrams made a comment when he wrapped Star Trek that he wanted to "make optimism cool again." I think the same tenet holds true here--while there's some boredom in the marriage, these are still people in a relationship that works, and who clearly love one another. Our two leads also happen to be non-white, without that kernel being a primary element of the show's plot or marketing. This might just be the first post-racial spy show.
All of this said, there's not a lot of deep plot in the premiere. The romance and action are put together well, there's a car chase, there's a rocket launcher, there's an amusing phone call to Sam's catering assistant back home as a gig goes south--while Steven subdues a captured Russian thug in the back of the car. Samantha and Steven's chemistry is tremendous, and watching attractive people make out and slink around doing spy-ish things is always a good time.
The Easter eggs for Abrams fans are also in there--check out the thumb drive they recover for a cute one, and their CIA handler's assistant has a bit of a talent crush on Steven. The supporting cast in particular promises to be filled out in the next few episodes, which I hope leads to more of the larger arcs and continuity that I've grown to love and expect from Abrams.
As I've said before, this show's a good time. The premiere episode, however, doesn't demand a lot from its audience. I'm looking forward to the show's attractive premise to grow into something stronger and more gripping as we move forward into the next few weeks.
What did you think? How do you feel about TV's first married-couple-catering show-spy thriller? Let us know!