Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Spies just wanna have fun: Reviewing "Cover Affairs"

"Alias's" super-spy Sydney Bristow was a lot of things -- smart, strong, capable of looking great in a ridiculous red wig. But you know what she wasn't? Happy. Girlfriend smiled, like, 4 times a season. Of course, her misery was understandable. I mean, she did find out her beloved dead mother was not only very much alive, but also an enemy spy. Talk about baggage.
Annie Walker (Piper Perabo), the rookie spy who is the central character of USA's charming new show "Covert Affairs," (debuting tonight at 10)  is like Sydney in many ways. She's tough. She digs disguises. Heck, Perabo even sounds remarkably like "Alias" star Jennifer Garner.
But, unlike Sydney, Annie is fairly cheerful. She smiles. She flirts. She does everything -- breaking into buildings, lying to local police about a mission, jumping out of a plane -- with tremendous glee. It's hard to tell at this early stage if Annie Walker is as good a character as Sydney, but one thing's for sure -- she's a heck of a lot more fun.

"Covert Affairs" follows Annie as she's suddenly drafted into service as a spy before her training is done. Her early ascension is due to her language skills, and her ability to pass as a call girl (apparently, a very important quality in a spy, considering that Perabo spends much of the premiere in kitten heels). Her missions are pretty typical spy show stuff (collecting information, stopping assassinations, fleeing a hotel room shoot-out, etc., etc.), but the show is perky enough and full of enough likable actors to be engaging despite its occasional predictability.
Perabo, who has been is such storied films as "Coyote Ugly," is actually adorable here. She makes Annie a winning heroine who remains plucky in the deadliest situations. Perabo is matched step for step by Christopher Gorham, who plays Auggie, the blind CIA agent who shows Annie the ropes.
Gorham, like Perabo, is a likable performer who, somehow, has never become a star (though many still have fond memories of his short-lived series "Jake 2.0"). Here, he's a lovely foil, both funny and sweet. I look forward to seeing more of him.
I also look forward to seeing more of Kari Matchett and Peter Gallagher, who play Annie's married bosses. I'm not crazy about Matchett's character, a jealous wife who uses her agency to spy on her husband, but I'm willing to keep an open mind because I like the actress. Ditto for Gallagher, who does little in the premiere but scowl and act mysterious. Given how much I enjoyed his upcoming guest spot on "Rescue Me," I'm hoping "Covert" makes better use of this excellent actor in future episodes. But, so far, the show is charming, fun and promising, and Annie is someone I could get used to spending time with.

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