Monday, May 27, 2013

TV on DVD Review: Covert Affairs - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Characters grow and pull you into the show
Cons: Too many storylines introduced too quickly
The Bottom Line:
Show starts too quickly
But characters grow on you
Spy show worth watching

"You Are Such a Bad Liar.  You'd Make Like the Worst Spy Ever."

Since I am addicted to all the other shows on the USA Network, I put Covert Affairs on my DVR sight unseen.  It also helped that the show was being called a cross between Alias and Chuck, two shows I absolutely love.  While it didn't quite live up to that hype, I found myself hooked on the show by the time the first season ended.

The show centers around Annie Walker (Piper Perabo), a new recruit at the CIA.  She is pulled from training early and begins her field work.  Her new boss is Joan Campbell (Kari Matchett) who just happens to be married to CIA director Arthur (Peter Gallagher).  There are sparks between her and her two co-workers, Jai Wilcox (Sendhil Ramamurthy) and the blind Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham).

Her first case finds Annie trying to retrieve secrets from a Russian only to have him shot by a sniper while she is in the room.  From there, she tries to help a mother and son who have uncovered a coded IRA message, keep a senator's mistress from taking the fall for stolen secrets, and help an Iranian defect to the US through Niagra Falls.

What Annie doesn't realize is that the CIA wants her in the field because they are trying to flush out Ben Mercer (Eion Bailey).  Ben and Annie met and had a steamy affair before he vanished.  In the years since, Annie hasn't quite gotten over him enough to be ready to move on.  Why did Ben leave without a word?  What is the CIA's interest in him?

As I implied in the first paragraph, I wasn't hooked right from the start.  The show introduced too many storylines.  There was nothing wrong with any of them, but I needed time to get to know the characters first.  For example, it's established in the pilot that Joan and Arthur have marital problems.  At that point, I didn't care.  Each episode has a main story and then brings in one or two of the storylines and advances them.  Again, it would have helped if they'd have fewer stories to juggle so they could have advanced the story in every episode.  By season two, the multiple storylines wouldn't have been the issue for me that it was here.

The main episode of each week is always fun and interesting.  Annie is still very inexperienced, so watching her get into and out of some pretty hairy experiences is always entertaining to watch.  I found the storyline with Ben fascinating and couldn't wait to find out what exactly was going on with him and why the CIA wanted to get in touch with him so much.

Most of the characters developed nicely, too.  Annie is smart and resourceful, as she should be since she's the lead character.  Jai has some interesting family relationships that come into play as the season progresses.  We rarely see beyond Joan's business exterior, even with the marital troubles she has with Peter.  But the most interesting character is Auggie.  They really develop him in interesting ways.  When I found out in the pilot that he was blind, I didn't think he'd ever leave the office, but they managed to find ways to show him in all kinds of environments.  Next to Annie, he's the best character on the show.

The actors do a fine job bringing their characters to life each week.  I've read some complaints at Piper's performance as Annie, but I always find it believable.

The only weak spot when it comes to characters is Annie's sister Danielle, played by Anne Dudek.  Danielle really has nothing to do except try to flesh out Annie's character.  She does that at times, although their sub-plots are usually the most predictable of any episode.  That's no disrespect to Anne Dudek; she just doesn't have much to work with.

I should mention that the show lives up to its name.  There are several steamy scenes.  It doesn't get beyond PG-13 range, but there is definitely more content like that than anything else that USA Network has done to date.

The first season of the show consisted of eleven episodes, and they are presented here on 3 DVD's in their native wide screen and full surround.  Extras include a few behind the scenes featurettes, a gag reel, a set tour, deleted scenes, and three commentaries.  And, in a nice touch, the DVD's contain descriptive services for the visually impaired.  I don't think I've even seen that on a DVD before, and considering one of the characters is blind, it's a great tie in.

I'm glad I gave the show a chance to grow on me because I got hooked on the first season of Covert Affairs.  If you enjoy spy stories, be sure to check this one out.

Season 1 Episodes:
1. Pilot
2. Walter's Walk
3. South Sound Suarez
4. No Quarter
5. In the Light
6. Houses of the Holy
7. Communication Breakdown
8. What Is and What Should Never Be
9. Fool in the Rain
10. I Can't Quit You, Baby
11. When the Levee Breaks

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