Undercovers: There’d better be more under there…

By October 5th, 2010

We have a treat for you today. Amy Berner, a regular Smart Pop contributor (most recently for Filled with Glee), has written a guest post on the new fall show Undercovers.


From the moment the series was announced, I’d been looking forward to the premiere of Undercovers more than any other new fall show. It’s a new spy show! By J.J. Abrams! One of the leads (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was in Doctor Who! They’ve got Gerald McRaney, who I last saw in the fantastic Jericho*! And did I mention, J.J. Abrams!

We’re now two episodes into the series, and all I can think is: this can’t be all there is to it, right?

Now, it isn’t a bad show. It’s … cute. I like cute. I watch Castle and Bones because they are cute. (I don’t know what it means about my psyche that I think two shows about murders are cute. I’d better move along.) But with Undercovers, I wanted more than just cute. I’m really hoping it’s under there somewhere and about to hit us all over the head with a shovel.

I’ve become an unabashed J.J. Abrams fan over the last decade. I love Fringe. I loved Alias. I loved the new Star Trek movie. And I loved Lost. My expectation of Undercovers was that it would do what all of those do/did: surprise me. Engage me. “Wow” me. So far? I don’t care all that much.

The same is true for the two leads, but I don’t think that is the fault of the actors. Boris Kodjoe has a double-dose of charisma on his side and Mbatha-Raw slides her character from caterer to agent and back with believability and ease. The two have great chemistry, but they have nothing to work with. Their characters haven’t been challenged by anything except a coffee machine. Not yet, anyway.

I have to hope that they are just making us comfortable right now. Look at the happy couple! Look at the ditzy underachieving sister! Look at the curmudgeonly handler! Look at the hero-worshiping helper! Look at the wise-cracking ex-boyfriend/ex-partner that causes conflict! Nothing to worry about here, it’s all just cute!

Please, let Lizzy the less-than-successful sister be an evil agent of some sort. Or let Hoyt the not-quite-professional-enough helper be a mastermind. Or let Shaw the sort-of-grumpy handler be setting them up for a big fall (one side comment of his in the premiere gives me hope that he’s setting them up for something). Or let Leo the ex-boyfriend be … nah, let Leo be Leo. I kind of like him as is, and he’s the only thing ruining the “Shiny Happy Caterers Who Take Spy Vacations” vibe.

Come on, Undercovers. Wow me. Because if this is it? I’ll be very disappointed. I’m staying optimistic that there’s a lot more going on than we know, but I hope that they don’t wait too long to show it.

*Really, have you seen Jericho? It’s quite good. You should check it out. I’ll wait here while you do.


What do you think of Undercovers?

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No Comments On "Undercovers: There’d better be more under there…"

  1. Mark O. Estes

    But Amy… That’s the point.

    Some people tend to forget that Abrams first came on the TV scene with ‘Felicity’, which was a college drama about a girl who drops all her post-high school plans to follow a guy she was in love with, but didn’t know she existed. No covert operations, no secret society out to kill her.

    I feels as if people got caught up in the LOST hoopla and think that everything that comes out of J.J. Abrams mind has to have some underlying mythological component or it will be a failure. That shouldn’t be the case at all. Ask M. Night Shyamalan, who incorporates what made him famous into every movie since his breakout hit, The Sixth Sense. I don’t want Abrams to become someone who is known only for his complex mysteries and not his great storytelling, like Shyamalan is for his twist endings and not too coherent plots.

    Also fans tend to forget that 1) Abrams left LOST when the show took a sharp turn in the direction of the mythological component and 2) people loathed the Rimbaldi arc towards Alias’s final years. I think Undercovers can be seen as an answer to those who didn’t like the overall mysteries of both of those series, as well as a means of just not letting people know that he can do something other than create said complex mysteries.

    Give it a chance, take it for what it is, I promise you that life will go on without a mystery to pick. Ask the new shows with complicated mysteries the past few years, oh wait, they are either gone or on their way out the door.


    • Mark O. Estes

      I meant to let people know that he can produce something other than complex mysteries…


      • Amy Berner

        I have to disagree. Even with Felicity (which I liked, but didn’t love like I do the others), our heroine threw herself into a challenging situation from the start so we had reason to root for her. With the Blooms, there is nothing to challenge them (yet) so we have nothing to root about.

        I’m not giving up yet! But I hope that they will be challenged somehow, giving the audience a reason to care what happens next. It’s been waaaaaaay too easy so far. Even Chuck (my favorite spy show at the moment, which is also in the “cute” category and technically a comedy) gives their characters more challenges and conflicts. I think Undercovers could (and should) as well, and I’ll be disappointed if they don’t.

  2. Jackie_D

    Good Morning.

    I agree that the first episode was a little weak, but this week’s was quite interesting. The operation that they go on, regarding a piece of art work and a formula for a bomb, is intriguing in itself, but when they threw in the twist at the end regarding Xerxes… that was shocking!

    I have to admit that one of the things that I enjoy the most about it so far is that these are somewhat normal people. Most previous spy shows/movies/novels have portrayed spies as ultra sexy and very unreal and/or with an intelligence far beyond most mortals, as well as making a spy career seem unattainable to the average joe. This show seems to do the opposite. While remaining quite appealing and provocative, this show seems to bring the spy genre down to earth so that most (if not all) of the watchers will probably be able to relate to at least some of the characters on the show. This is very different from previous spy greats such as Holmes and Bond. Not to say that this show is on their level, at least not yet, but it’s nice to see the spy profession being portrayed as something reachable rather than just as something that most people can never aspire to.


  3. desiree

    Do people who watch spy shows want to watch a show about normal people? I guess that question was partly answered when undercovers got cancelled. I think a show about normal people can be just as compelling as a mythos heavy spy show. Its just Undercovers wasn’t that compelling either through stories or characters. I liked the actors and characters but it was a chore to watch the show. There was nothing in the show that made me want to watch it for the long run. I think if undercovers examined the idea of normal people being spies idea more it might have been more interesting. J.J Abrams hallmark is not complex mysteries its compelling characters. All of his shows and films contain this. I think with Undercovers he and the group of writers were afraid to tread on similar territory of Alias. THose who love Alias will tell you that the best part of Alias was the characters and their relationships with each other. But what do I know, I liked the Rimbaldi arc.


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