[Contains “original” flavour Pringles and SPOILERS!!!]
I was jonesing for more X-Files to binge on, and ended up slapping on the metaphorical nicotine patch of Covert Affairs… which turned out to be a fun girly-spy show, with a rather ludicrous premise (and a truly terrible title sequence).
Piper Perabo stars as
‘Karen Sympathy’ ‘Annie Walker’, an athletic, multi-lingual “army brat” who decides to join the C.I.A., after being unceremoniously dumped by an enigmatic American hunk she had a whirlwind romance with in Sri Lanka. Annie is rushed into service one month before she’s set to complete her spy-training, little suspecting that her bosses are hoping to use her to flush out her absent beau, ‘Ben Mercer’, an omniscient uber-agent who went rogue after his earth-shattering, humanity-restoring, paradigm-shifting dalliance with her! Personally, I found that whole story-arc a major drag and distraction from the case-of-the-week stuff, and think the show would have worked just as well without it. There’s a scene later in the season where Annie finally meets up with Ben again, and claims that she suspected he was a spy all along, suggesting that she only joined the Agency in the hope of seeing him again… which kinda makes sense, but it’s still a bit of a stretch of credulity. I’d much rather they’d gone with an “absent mother/father” angle, where it turns out one of her parents was a super-spy killed-in-action, and the Agency are fast-tracking her to see if she’s inherited their skills. But no one asked me at the time, and the show just started airing its fourth season, so let’s forget all that nit-picking and get on to the good stuff…
Perabo might not be most people’s idea of a kick-ass action-chick, but she seems to be having fun with all the stunts, and she carries the show with remarkable lightness and confidence, commandeering every scene with her wholesome, honeyed charisma. She also has the most adorable smile in the world (in fact, she’s so adorably doe-eyed I’m beginning to suspect that she was designed by Disney), but can switch to her steely serious “game face”, when need be. It’s kind of weird seeing her holding a pistol on the cover of the DVD though, because there seems to be a rule among the writers that she never be allowed to fire anything more deadly than a flare gun in the series itself! How very unpatriotic of her. Meanwhile, Annie’s unsuspecting sister (and landlady) ‘Danielle’ is played by the always awesome Anne Dudek. After her raw, spiky performance in The Book Group, it’s pretty disappointing to see her saddled with the rather thankless role of a domesticated wife/mother here… especially since the sisterly sub-plots have such a predictable trajectory: First they’re best-friends, then they fall out over Annie’s evasive behaviour, then they hug and make-up… lather, rinse, repeat. That said, Dudek does get a little more to do in ep #1.9 (“Fool in the Rain”), when Dani and Annie go on a vacation to Niagara Falls, only for their trip to be interrupted by a defecting Iranian delegate… of course, Dani never actually realises that she’s helping Annie complete her politically sensitive spy-mission, but it’s good to see her proving to be a useful asset all the same. Also, on a purely superficial level, Dudek looks absolutely gorgeous throughout… and her hair is particularly yummy here.
The other major female cast member is Kari Matchett, playing ‘Joan Campbell’, Annie’s direct superior at the (fictional) “Domestic Protection Division”. Joan is married to their boss, the Director of the National Clandestine Service, and there’s a lot of tension and mistrust between them, which we’re clearly supposed to invest in… but since I wasn’t sure what they were using Annie for, or what their endgame was, I found it very hard to care about their marital troubles. It took me several episodes to realise that that they were probably “goodies”, and weren’t just tossing Annie out as cannon fodder so they could gun her boyfriend down like a sick dog. Despite guest appearances in Ugly Betty and Elementary (plus a recurring role in Wonderfalls), I wasn’t familiar with Matchett’s work, but she gives a very strong performance here, both as Annie’s no-nonsense boss, and as a somewhat insecure woman afraid that she’s losing her husband. Meanwhile, hubby is obsessed with hunting down a mole who’s leaking classified intel to ‘Liza Hearn’, a nosy newspaper journalist played by Emmanuelle Vaugier… who has had recurring roles in Smallville and Lost Girl, as well as guest spots in Veronica Mars, Supernatural, and The Outer Limits. Oh, and Joan is occasionally assisted by a recurring techy named ‘Millie’, played by Miranda Edwards… who doesn’t have many big credits on her resume, but she did make her screen debut in Mean Girls, so that’s pretty cool.
As for the supporting players… Lana Parrilla appeared in ep #1.3 (“South Bound Suarez”) as ‘Julia Suarez’, a well-respected banker down in Venezuela, who is having an affair with a corrupt local official, and may be the key to exposing his nefarious financial dealings with terrorist-types. Parrilla is probably best known for playing ‘Regina Mills’ (aka “The Evil Queen”) in Once Upon a Time, but I was amused to discover that she also played ‘Greta’, one of the inexplicably cute Others bunking down in “The Looking Glass” Station, in Lost. Lauren Holly appeared in ep #1.6 (“Houses of the Holy”) as ‘Madeline Jarvis’, the exasperated wife of a philandering Senator, who decides to get her revenge by selling state secrets to Indonesia, and then framing his sexy “chief of staff” squeeze for the crime. Meow! Although Holly’s had a long, successful career, and appeared in many very grown-up and serious roles since, I’ll always remember her as the object of Jim Carrey’s delusional fantasises in Dumb & Dumber. But, I hear you ask, who plays the peppy preppy leading her husband astray? Why, it’s none other than Anna Camp, of course! Bless her. Annie has to befriend Camp’s character in order to ferret out the source of the leak, and it was great seeing the two of them bonding and giggling over tipsy gossip. She eventually had to move away in disgrace, after the affair became public knowledge… which is a shame, because it might have been nice for our heroine to have a gal-pal who actually knew the truth about her job, and could appreciate how important it was.
Liane Balaban appeared in ep #1.7 (“Communication Breakdown”) as ‘Natasha Petrovna’, a Russian hacker with the capability to shut down all communication technology in the Washington D.C. area. Balaban made her screen debut in a film called New Waterford Girl (1999), which looks pretty interesting, and since then she’s had guest-spots in NCIS: Los Angeles and Alphas, as well as a recent recurring role in Supernatural. Apparently, Balaban had played a Russian once before (for The Trotsky), but decided to “refresh” her accent by watching interviews with the faux-lesbian dance-pop-duo T.A.T.U. (who, it has to be said, made some fantastically disturbing videos in their time)! Sienna Guillory appeared in ep #1.8 (“What Is and What Should Never Be”) as ‘Sophie Jacklin’, an auction house director caught up in a money-laundering scheme. Despite being smart enough to pack a pistol in her office desk, Sophie doesn’t live very long… so it’s a far cry from Guillory’s role as iconic action-heroine ‘Jill Valentine’ in the Resident Evil flicks. And finally, Anna Chlumsky appeared in ep #1.10 (“I Can’t Quit You, Baby”) as ‘Vivian Long’, a vice-consul at the American Embassy in (fakey, green-screen) London, who’s reluctantly embroiled in a diamond smuggling ring. It’s obvious from the dialogue that Vivian is supposed to be a rather dowdy geek (or “wonk”, as Annie calls her), and Chlumsky does a very good job of acting like a gawky “ugly duckling”… but it would take more than a pair of glasses and a few dorky affectations to disguise the fact that she’s a total hottie… arguably even hotter than Perabo herself, though I’m sure that’s a matter of personal taste! Either way, I enjoyed her performance way too much to care about the slight miscasting…
And that kinda sums up how I feel about the show overall. It doesn’t make much sense if you think about it too hard, but there’s enough breezy banter and cool action sequences to make it a pleasant time-passer, while the genuinely great shows are off-air.