I go all the way back to Felicity when it comes to J.J. Abrams (I even tried to hang in after she cut her hair … but just couldn’t do it).  I hung with him through every season of Alias (or on the big screen when he called it Mission Impossible III).  I was a fan of Lost and I loved he re-imagining of Star Trek.  In Fringe he has one of the best television characters ever (Walter!).  So with that sort of history in mind, I looked forward to see what his latest television endeavor would bring.

Undercovers, the latest Abrams vehicle, hopes to inject life into the struggling NBC lineup (as it moves away from its all Law & Order all the time strategy).  It brings together Abrams love of romance (Felicity) with his love for action spy stuff (Alias) and might as well be called “Felias.”  The premise on the whole is a married couple, both of whom are (ex-)spies, go on missions together.  Steven ( Boris Kodjoe) and Samantha (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) Bloom are CIA operatives turned caterers who are then tapped to come back into service (suspension of disbelief alert).

The Blooms had vowed to put their marriage above their missions/duty which led to them eventually leaving the world of secrets and compartmentalization known as espionage.  Catering becomes their escape into a “normal life.”  However, Carlton Shaw (Gerald McRaney, television’s go to guy when it comes to needing someone with a military bearing) shows up and “God, duty, and country” speechifies them into going on one last mission.   The agency needs their help in finding Leo Nash (Carter MacIntyre), an agent who has fallen out of contact on a mission … who also happens to be Samantha’s ex-lover.

“How did we end up here?” –Samantha

The show has all of the right ingredients:  action packed plots, globe-trotting, intrigue, beautiful to look at lead actor/actress, and solid supporting staff (such as Bill Hoyt (Ben Schwartz, this show’s equivalent to Alias’ Marshall aka the loveable nerd sidekick … though this one has a spy-crush on Steven).  So we get a Mr. and Mrs. Smith: the series type show, with characters who are pretty, decent, and nice.  But the show does quite work.  There’s no romantic frisson in the background, which should drive a banter-heavy show like this..  I don’t think that’s because the couple is married, as opposed to the will they/won’t they tension normally used in such a scenario.  It’s more that there’s lackluster chemistry between the leads.

“You don’t make the rules.  There is protocol.” –Shaw

The life of a double agents is a mercurial one. By necessity they have to lead secret lives and while at first or on the surface it may seem exciting, it takes its toll. Living with the desire to tell their friends and family, be honest and real with them, about who they are. Only allowed to tell the truth when convenient or absolutely necessary. And when the truth comes out in drips and drabs, their friends are left with a sense of betrayal, not knowing if a single thing said was true, and leaving them feeling like they were only dealing with a stranger.  A lifestyle of hidden agendas and a world of lies can reap a devastating toll on a marriage.

In the same way we can compartmentalize our spirituality as well as our lives. Our duplicitous lives lead to a sort of spiritual dissociation. This is the way of how (secret) sins work, how they infiltrate our lives and we manage to continue to function. They may start small or innocent enough, manageable enough that we can put it away, lock it up in a box in our heart. Boxes we can control and keep hidden. But those boxes stack up, become bricks in a wall eventually sealing us off from God’s rebuking and restorative voice. We rot behind that wall.

“We’re not the police.  We don’t follow rules.” –Steven

Unlike Alias, Fringe, or Lost, Undercovers doesn’t get bogged down in lots of twists or a dense mythology.  It is bare bones and mostly forgettable, the television equivalent to comfort food.  It strives to be an action-packed, banter-heavy (though without any particular bite), spy show that also explores modern marriage.  While I’m ecstatic to see people of color in starring roles (an all too frequent occurrence in the television landscape – though Abrams has a long history of diversity on his shows that never feels forced), sometimes I wonder if the catering version of this show might be more interesting.