J.J. Abrams’s production company, Bad Robot, has spawned some of the best television of the past decade — “Felicity” (1998−2002), “Alias” (2001−2006), “Lost” (2004−2010) and, while it has had rough spots, “Fringe.” Bad Robot’s latest television venture, “Undercovers,” eschews Abrams’s original touch and basically remakes “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” (2005) in serial form with a questionable degree of success.
Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha−Raw play Steven and Samantha Bloom, a young married couple that owns a catering company … and is also deactivated, dangerous spies. They are reactivated when Samantha’s old partner goes missing, and for some mysterious reason, their old boss thinks that the Blooms are the only two spies who can find him.
Once they begin their mission, the flame of passion that had disappeared under the monotony of their marriage begins to rekindle. The couple clearly thrives on adrenaline — after ascertaining the whereabouts of the missing partner, they are inspired to dance a tango together in a gilt ballroom.
If the plot sounds familiar, that’s because it is. From the marital bickering to the rescue missions, from the lack of passion pre−mission to the abundance of it post−mission, the entire pilot reeks of Doug Liman’s “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”
It’s entirely possible that “Undercovers” will soon pick up the pace and become a show with its own little niche, as past Abrams endeavors have. But in the pilot stage, with its uninspiring plotlines and corny, by−the−book dialogue, the show has a long way to go.
Kodjoe and Mbatha−Raw, both relatively unknown actors, are the best parts of the otherwise banal story. They skillfully sell the rut in their marriage while maintaining a lighter, comedic undertone.
Most importantly, they have real on−screen chemistry. It’s not Brangelina caliber, but it’s certainly good enough for the small screen. The tango scene, though completely expected, actually has quite a bit of heat; you find yourself finally rooting for this couple to prevail. If the show has one thing going for it, it’s the performances.
Everything else falls short. Most significantly missing is the unexpectedness that we’ve come to expect from an Abrams−backed show. The so−called missions that the Blooms attempt are relatively basic, and they hardly encounter any foes. The only scene that even resembles an action scene is one where Samantha quickly dispatches three or four bad guys with a couple of well−placed kicks and judo chops.
The show also tries to be too many things at once: an action thriller, a suspenseful drama, a romance between the leads and a comedy of marital strife. It seems that in trying to appeal to everyone, the show loses its way. Nothing ever hits the mark, lending a sort of lackluster feel to every part of the show.
However, if there’s one man that can turn an uninteresting show around, it’s Abrams. “Fringe” had a rocky start and has only just now hit its stride with the beginning of its third season.
So maybe this sort of start isn’t bad for “Undercovers.” As long as the writers can figure out how to make the weekly missions smarter, they shouldn’t have any problem pulling in new viewers.
NBC has also been given the chance to really delve in and explore the fantastic metaphor that marriage is like a mission in more than the two hours that “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” lasted. The writers just need to take risks and work with Kodjoe and Mbatha−Raw’s undeniable talents to achieve this.