Covert Affairs, 1.01 “Pilot” Review

Covert Affairs is a welcome new series after a slew of recent debuts that were more or less duds. It’s not an amazing series, but it’s straight out of the USA brand factory: sleek, fun, light and with a little bit of ‘tude. The comparisons to Alias are apt, but that point has been beaten to death so much that I don’t even care to discuss it.

The one thing that USA does best with its series is casting. Every single one of its current series has solid-to-stellar casting and Covert Affairs is no different Piper Perabo has never been a standout performer, but the character of Annie fits her well and allows her to be confident and charming without having to emote too much. I’ll be interested to see if she can handle heavier moments, but this is a USA series so I can’t imagine the plot will ever require her to do a whole lot of major lifting. Moreover, USA series never have its leads struggle too much and even for a newbie, I think that fits. The pilot goes out of its way to set up that Annie is a stellar rookie agent and while her desire to take initiative will get her in trouble on a week to week basis, her skills will surely help her get out of it.

Aside from Perabo, this is a wonderful cast from top to bottom. Christopher Gorham is tremendously funny and knowing as Auggie and will probably be the best part of the series on a weekly basis. Kari Matchett and Peter Gallagher help sell the plot point that CIA agents should now date one another very well and I’m hoping that they’ll both have more to do in the future. Anne Dudek is totally underused, but I’ll never complain about seeing her on my screen and Eion Bailey always brings it too.

The pilot ran long, but didn’t feel like it. The story zipped from plot point to plot point with ease, throwing in lots of exposition with ease without seeming too pretentious or fluffy. The set pieces were well-shot and it was apparent what was actually going on, and these days, that’s a compliment. To be honest, I was a little surprised at how much the episode emphasized the romantic entanglements of the characters and the CIA in general, if only because USA series tend to only deal with romantic relationships on occasion and actually don’t handle them well. But here, the romance or at least seduction and flirting are on full display. On one hand, it’s a welcome change to the USA formula. On the other, I don’t know how much time I want to spend listening to the characters talk about hooking up with co-workers. I don’t need Grey’s Anatomy: CIA.

Finally, the overarching story. Again, it’s tied in to romance, as Annie’s ex Ben is obviously some sort of covert agent himself who has been on the run since he left her on the beach of Sri Lanka. If Covert Affairs takes the normal USA route, Ben will occasionally save Annie from dangerous situations, Peter Gallagher’s character will talk about how he’s ‘dangerous’and it will all be connected to a vague conspiracy that’s associated with the media leak the CIA is dealing with. And then suddenly it will be revealed that there’s a larger conspiracy at large just like on Burn Notice or White Collar. Much like those series, I’m less interested in that story than what kind of case will pop up.

Covert Affairs fits perfectly into the USA schedule with a pilot that’s far from original but probably as enjoyable as the White Collar pilot. B

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