TV Review: Weak Writing Blows Cover of ‘Covert Affairs’

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CHICAGO – “If you join the CIA, will you be able to separate your work from your personal life?” Such is the dilemma of “Covert Affairs,” a show about a tough-as-nails agent named Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) that conceptually seems to fit snugly into the USA Network model of hit, character-driven mysteries, but it’s going to take some serious work to improve on a deeply-flawed premiere. Television Rating: 2.0/5.0
Television Rating: 2.0/5.0

Annie Walker is a girl “who certainly doesn’t fit the profile” and yet feels completely like a spy show cliche not unlike Sydney Bristow from “Alias.” It’s a tough role to pull off as Perabo is tasked with being believable as a super-spy who shatters test scores in her climb up the training ladder but also must be convincing in dialogue-driven scenes where her good looks are required to reduce most men around her to jelly. After one episode, it’s not clicking. Perabo is a lovely girl with a decent amount of screen presence, but the role, as written, requires a one-of-a-kind and Perabo is unconvincing. When she plays an agent pretending to be a call girl, she’s somehow not believable as either, but it’s primarily the fault of the generic spy show writing and not the casting.

Piper Perabo as Annie Walker
Piper Perabo as Annie Walker
Photo credit: Steve Winkie/USA

She’s not helped by dialogue and pacing that goes against what is so often the strength of USA Network programming. To be blunt, I never once bought the action of the series premiere. The opening episode has echoes of such vastly superior works of fiction, including “Silence of the Lambs,” and it’s constantly faltering by comparison. The extended pilot is not helped by an extension to over an hour. The best USA Network programs — “Burn Notice,” “Royal Pains,” “White Collar” — should be studied for their spectacular pacing that allows each hour to breeze by in what feels like half the running time. On the other end, “Covert Affairs” feels twice as long as its actual running time.

Piper Perabo as Annie Walker
Piper Perabo as Annie Walker
Photo credit: Robert Ascroft/USA

To be fair, it’s easy to believe that the failures of “Covert Affairs” are all due to first-date jitters and there’s a chance that the wrinkles in this super-spy suit could easily be ironed out before long. Perabo is talented and when she’s allowed to settle into her character’s gorgeous outfits instead of having to sell so much character development as she is in the premiere, it’s not hard to see her being an effective character. And that’s what drives all of USA’s successful programming — character. Right now, Annie’s not up to the star status of the rest of the team on her network but she could be before long.

If “Covert Affairs” does click with audiences and improves after the premiere, Perabo won’t be able to do it alone. She’s surrounded by a better-than-average supporting cast that includes Christopher Gorham, Kari Machett, Peter Gallagher, Anne Dudek, Clarke Peters, and Emmanuelle Vaugier. On paper, “Covert Affairs” features arguably the best cast on television this summer. But talented actors only go so far if you don’t write them clever dialogue or give them intriguing plotlines in which to display their craft. However, having this much firepower in your cast means that merely a few tweaks to the writing and pacing and the talent will rise to the top.

The show also has notable production values, especially for made-for-cable programming. Produced by some of the “Bourne Trilogy” team, the show looks great and sometimes just enough flash-bang on a Tuesday night can be all we need to get us over to hump day. Although they’ll have to do better than the unbelievable climax of episode one, which includes a very poorly-staged fight scene.

The fact is that USA shows are starting to be held to a higher standard. Ten years ago, “Covert Affairs” would have worked, but with a female lead not as interesting as “In Plain Sight,” spy action not as expertly paced as “Burn Notice,” and dialogue nowhere near as clever as “Royal Pains” or “White Collar,” “Covert Affairs” suffers greatly in comparison. Only time will tell if this affair becomes one worth remembering.

‘Covert Affairs,’ which airs on USA, stars Piper Perabo, Christopher Gorham, Kari Machett, Peter Gallagher, Anne Dudek, Clarke Peters, and Emmanuelle Vaugier. It was created by Matt Corman and Chris Ord. The show premieres on July 13th, 2010 at 9PM CST. content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

Mick's picture

Go Piper!

With the Bourne Trilogy people behind it, I really think Covert Affairs could easily be the break out hit of the summer. The casting is pretty fun for those who saw their favorite shows canceled (Heroes, Ugly Better) and the natural charm and likability of Piper Perabo is without question. She’s smart, quirky, kicks butt, and very beautiful. If she kicks butt half as much as she makes men drool she’ll be kicking lots of butt!

A Dedication to Piper Perabo:—piper-pera…

Anonymous's picture

Covert Affairs

I really liked the premiere. There are some scenes that jumped around a little and the characters were nor fully developed, but how can they be in an hour? To me, this was a setting or prelude of what is to come and I am anxious to see how the show develops. I thought Piper Perabo did a great job going from trainee to experienced spy in an hour. That part of the writing was not as I would have expected, but she did it (very well) and the ground work has been laid for future shows. The cast is great and I think it will all fall into place. I didn’t think the timing was that great on White Collar, Royal Pains or Burn Notice at first - they all took a few episodes!

Justin's picture

On all of the other USA

On all of the other USA shows you mention, I was hooked by the first episode. For this one I was thinking “Please let it end!”.

TV's picture

has cooked up an

has cooked up an action-packed funny and smart spy series with an excellent supporting cast.

Joe Mattera's picture

Covert Affairs

We have a group of couples that get together playing cards; shooting pool and various games. The gals have usually have Covert Affairs playing on the TV. The guys, including myself, finally sat through the show when she and her former boyfriend teamed up and I have to say the show held my attention and Covert Affairs has a new group of fans in Dallas!

Bulldog1054's picture

Covert Affairs

The cast is well selected, for me it was quite interesting to see Peter Gallagher outside O.C.’s Sandy Cohen persona. He has definitely done nice job with the show so far.

Anonymous's picture

Dumb writing

Sorry, but too much dumb writing in this opener to list. I’ll just list one as an example. She breaks a rule by asking an outsider the definition of a Russian word. When she shows up at work the next day, at the gate, suddenly a big suv screams out in front of her to block her way. Another car screams in behind her to hem her in, and security men rush forward… because she’s being called on the carpet to her boss??! Gee, I guess the CIA don’t have memo pads, or emails they can send that say “Come to my office please”. It was ridiculous and absurd. I thought the next scene would show she was suspected of being a terrorist or something, not in her boss’s office talking about rules.

Fire the writers and try again.

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