Friday, January 10, 2014

Putin on the Ritz

Well, you can't blame them for trying. It seems the networks have seen the success of Showtime's Homeland (and it's multiple Emmy wins) and now television series about US intelligence agencies are breaking out all over.

It's January so it's time for midseason premieres! In the Fall, the networks all tout their shows as the next big thing, but in reality they know most of those new shows are going to fail. There's always a back up plan and the networks have a bunch of new series waiting in the wings to take the empty time slots. This means that January is chock full of premieres, so let's get going on some of these reviews, shall we?

First up, The Assets!

I wasn't wowed by this one, and apparently most of America wasn't either. The first episode of this eight part miniseries debuted with the lowest rating in the key demo (a 0.7 among 18-49 year olds) of any drama to air on the big four networks. The lowest rating EVER. That's pretty impressive. No word yet on Putin's reaction to the series. 

Here's a basic plot summary from ABC:
The Assets is an eight-part miniseries based on the real life events of CIA counter-intelligence officer Sandy Grimes (Jodie Whittaker). 1985 serves as the backdrop to the final showdown of the Cold War when Sandy and her partner Jeanne Vertefeuille (Harriet Walter) vowed to find the mole that would turn out to be the most notorious traitor in US History, Aldrich Ames (Paul Rhys). Sandy is in a race against time to save the Soviet intelligence officers from being caught and killed. Living her own double life at home, this beautiful wife and mother vowed to stop at nothing until she uncovered the truth. The Assets will look inside the true, personal stories of the conclusion of the Cold War as told by the keepers of the nation’s secrets: the CIA.
It's basically Homeland set in 1980s. So instead of Middle Eastern terrorists, it's Russians. And the main blonde agent is kinda boring. And not crazy. And doesn't make goofy faces when she cries.

This is like 70% of the reason why I watch Homeland. The other 30% is hoping that Mandy Patinkin will sing.

I didn't hate it; the show had a lot of stuff going for it. The espionage stuff is all pretty neat, and there were some tense scenes of spy vs. spy shenanigans involving the CIA and the KGB. I also liked that the Russians weren't made to look like buffoons--they pose a genuine threat and out-maneuver the CIA at every turn in the first episode. It's also clear by the end of the first episode who the mole in the organization is.  Since it's a matter of public record now, keeping it secret would have been kind of silly. After 30 years, the cat is out of the bag.

There are some problems though. There was a lot of "huhs?" going on in the living room of my Dad's house for the first half of the episode. There's a difference between trusting the intelligence of your audience and being purposefully cagey. I guess they were hoping there would be a big "aha!" moment at the end when the pieces come together, but I wonder how many people actually made it that far.

In the end, I'll most likely keep watching, but if the pace doesn't pick up in the second episode or the characters don't become more engaging, I'm out.

The Assets airs Thursdays at 10:00 pm EST on ABC. You can view episodes online at the ABC website.

Second show: Intelligence!

It's kind of ballsy to name your show Intelligence. Especially if the underlying concept is kind of silly and completely derivative.

These two have seen it all before. And really so have you.

Hit it, promo monkeys!
In Intelligence, Josh Holloway stars as Gabriel Vaughn, a high-tech intelligence operative enhanced with a super-computer microchip in his brain. With this implant, Gabriel is the first human ever to be connected directly into the global information grid. He can hack into any data center and access key intel in the fight to protect the United States from its enemies. Marg Helgenberger stars as Lillian Strand, the director of the US Cyber Command who supports Gabriel and oversees the unit's missions. She assigns Riley Neal (Meghan Ory), a Secret Service agent, to protect Gabriel from outside threats, as well as from his appetite for reckless, unpredictable behavior and disregard for protocol.
Sound familiar? If you're a fan of NBC's Chuck, it should. Ok, so Josh Holloway's character isn't playing geeky 30 something....he's more of an ex-Delta Force superhuman crime-fighting machine. But still.

Intelligence is basically a standard CBS procedural masquerading as something more. They want it to be new! and exciting! But don't be fooled. Instead of a crime lab or whatever, it's the US Cyber Command (say what?). Sure, the first episode looked great--but almost every drama premiering on the networks these days looks good. I will admit that it had some great action sequences and fight scenes though, but nothing else about it really connected with me.

What you have here is last night's leftovers dressed up in some fancy packaging in an effort to make it more appetizing. And I count Josh Holloway among the wrapping. He's a looker alright, but still playing his usual wise-cracking tough guy character. Unlike Sawyer though, Gabriel has a quest! He needs to find his missing wife whom everyone is convinced was a traitor against America and died years ago. But he will never give up hope. Or something.

One more quibble. Other than a few Asian bad guys, everyone in this show is white. This was a HUGE problem for me, and rankled me throughout the pilot episode. In this day and age, it is basically inexcusable to have an ensemble show without any minorities. Get your shit together, CBS.

Oh, look! A show full of blandly attractive white people. SHOCKER.

Bottom line: unless you are hankering for another US agency procedural (this time dressed up with some admittedly awesome action scenes), skip it. Go watch SHIELD; while that show isn't perfect, at least has a sense of fun and some interesting ideas.

Intelligence airs Mondays at 10:00 EST on CBS.

No comments: