Covert Affairs TV Review

Yet another criminal investigation show, Covert Affairs seems to want to shift the focus to something that delivers a more behind-the-scenes approach than the norm. At least, you have to hope that’s how things will play out, because there are a lot of storylines vying for attention. Premiering tonight, the show teams up with USA‘s other (newer) crime effort, White Collar.

Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) is new to the CIA. In fact, the show opens with her still in training at the farm, and being pulled out early. There’s a very important “mission” that Annie could be very helpful with, and it isn’t going to require that last month of work.

Assigned as Annie’s guide is Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham), who happens to be blind. Part confidant, part pseudo-mentor, part tech-ops handler, Auggie is Annie’s only grounding force as she is thrown into the deep end of the pool and expected to survive.

Covert Affairs (as a nice fit with USA‘s “character” motto), shifts the storyline center far more to the character side than most shows you’ll see that relate to crime. Not only in that the show is aiming to deliver a certain fish-out-of-water feel with respect to Annie’s sudden active status, but also insofar as her having to deal with her “normal” life a bit faster than she intended.

If anything comes through as the overall point of view of the show, it is Annie’s general perspective of being out of her element with all aspects of the transition. Unsure how to fit in at the CIA, she doesn’t even have the comfort of going home to discuss her “bad spy day,” with family and friends.

While all such shows relay some deeper, off-the-job elements (or at least put a lot into the on-the-job relationships), Covert Affairs takes things up a notch. Annie’s relationship with her sister, Danielle Brooks (Anne Dudek) is the fuel for most of this angle, with Annie unable to divulge much of anything, because any answer about anything would only lead to more questions. Playing well off each other, Perabo and Dudek have the potential to deliver some of the more interesting plot roads you’re likely to see on television in the near future.

Kicking things off with a simple blind date scenario, we easily get the idea that we’re in store for a new sort of work/home dichotomy with a lot of possibilities. Especially since we stress Annie’s emotional distance as a key positive to her CIA eligibility, and mix it with the quite different reaction of a protective, older sister.

Thrown into this mix is another relationship spin the show will throw at us, and it is one that would seem on the road to an equal share of the spotlight, despite the show’s effort to put up Perabo and Gorham as the key faces. Joan (Kari Matchett) is Annie’s immediate superior, and she’s tough as nails, and doesn’t pretend otherwise. Arthur Campbell (Peter Gallagher) is the director of the CIA, and Joan’s husband. Theirs is a rocky relationship, obviously loaded with problematic elements. Working with your spouse is bad enough, but being a spy can make you think things, and Joan has a feeling that Arthur is having an affair.

It turns out to be a massive conglomeration, and somewhere along the way we’ve probably got to catch some bad guys, or at least perform some manner of subterfuge and deviousness. The shows you’re probably used to have some interesting crimes driving each episode, and in the background we catch some relationship and/or character development, but Covert Affairs (much like it’s sister show White Collar) plays from an angle much better described as just the opposite.

The pilot may not be the best I’ve ever seen, but it has a lot to establish, and it does a remarkable job at fitting it all in without slipping into drudgery. It will be interesting to see how producer Doug Liman’s hand comes to the screen, though already apparent in the action bits, when there is such a character-centered product to mix it into, and I’m decidedly interested to see more.

It is by now a safe bet to recommend shows on USA, and there is little to make me believe this one diverges from the path. I’m betting that you want to make sure to catch this one, because before long you’ll wish you had. Although I am beginning to wish that USA would realize that you can have characters in shows without crimes as well.


Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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