Review – ‘Covert Affairs’ Is Solid, Fun

I’m starting to regret that I don’t watch USA more than I do. My neglect certainly isn’t because they have bad programming, because they don’t — it’s more of a matter of time. USA is on the bottom of my priorities list. However, after seeing both premieres from July 13’s Tuesday night lineup, I have to say that I might be making some amends to my schedule to make room for USA.

The first part of that Tuesday night block is White Collar‘s second season (the premiere of which has been reviewed here), and the second hour is a freshman series that actually proved to be really engrossing: Covert Affairs.

I didn’t really have high hopes for the new show. It looked like a simple spy thriller focused on sex appeal, and I was skeptical. Turns out, that’s exactly what it is: a spy thriller based on sex appeal that for some reason makes itself a hell of a lot of fun.

Most of that fun rests on the shoulders of the show’s star, Piper Perabo, who plays novice C.I.A. agent Piper Perabo. Watching Perabo is like watching an amalgam of Billie Piper and Kristen Bell channel Reese Witherspoon. Yes, that’s as awesome as it sounds. Perabo lights up the screen in every scene she’s in, and she’s got a LOT of sex appeal. However, there’s a bit too much of a bumbling aspect to her that should be curtailed as much as possible. That Reese Witherspoon parallel I mentioned earlier can go against her if she goes too far with the Legally Blonde routine — and she (or the script) comes close about twice.

The rest of the cast is solid, too. Peter Gallagher (who spoke to TVOvermind about the show a few days ago) plays Arthur Campbell, a CIA higher-up who has no direct interaction with Annie. Campbell’s storyline, however, doesn’t seem tacked on, even though it’s a branch from the main plot. His quest to find a leak within the agency ultimately seems like it’s going to be an arc that concludes with Annie being involved. However, his relationship with Joan Campbell, his feuding wife, takes up too much screen time and really feels needless. Her paranoia that he’s cheating on her isn’t fun to watch at all, and the result is a few clunky scenes to take away from the action with Annie.

Annie shares a lot of screen time with Auggie Anderson (Harper Island‘s Christopher Gorham), a blind CIA analyst who is ultimately the comic relief of the show. While Annie’s antics are often funny, Auggie is the more sardonic wit, often using his blindness to his advantage. One scene at a bar shows him (presumably successfully) seducing some law school students by playing off his disability. Auggie and Annie already have real chemistry, and if the show doesn’t explore that in the future, it will be a shame.

Not to say that won’t be hard, though. Annie has a past with a mysterious man, with whom she had a whirlwind affair in Sri Lanka (as illustrated by a really cheesy montage fit for a low-grade soap opera — the only really groan-worthy moment of the episode). He pops up again in an interesting (but expected) way, and she’ll undoubtedly be chasing after him for the rest of the season/series.

Annie’s sister also appears in the other half of her life, and she’s played by the always reliable Anne Dudek . Dudek’s character is the only tangible emotional base that Annie has, and their few scenes together are some of my favorites from the episode.

And did I mention that Clarke Peters turns up briefly? Seeing the ever-cool mystery man from The Wire and Treme pop up in this show was a very welcome surprise — and Peters’ small role might have just been the highlight of the episode, if only on the principle that we were seeing Lester Freamon as a knowing professor.

All in all, Covert Affairs is a solid — though not perfect — start, and I might just tune into USA to see more. What’ll be interesting is to see how this show stacks up to NBC’s similarly-themed Undercovers when that premieres in the fall. B

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