Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Behind the Curve: Covert Affairs

USA Network often comes up with some really good original programming (i.e., Monk, Psych) or at least shows that sound good in theory if not in actuality (i.e., Burn Notice, White Collar). When the channel began previewing a new show called Covert Affairs starring Piper Perabo, I was pretty certain this would be one I would like. But because I’m my typical self and I don’t get on top of things the way I should, the second season was nearly over before I finally started watching the first season. Now with the third season starting tonight, I’d thought it be a good idea to sum up my thoughts on the show so far.

The basic run-down of the show is that Annie Walker, a young CIA recruit, finds herself suddenly promoted to a full-time position in the Domestic Protection Division (DPD). She thinks that her ability to quickly learn languages and her skills in training led to this development, but the viewer knows that her past is part of the reason she’s advanced so quickly. Either way though, now that she’s in the CIA, Annie’s life has become non-stop adventure.

Now, without any further ado, here’s my pro/con list for the show, in no particular order.


- Covert Affairs showcases good acting all around, but especially from Piper Perabo as Annie and Christopher Gorham as Auggie.
- Between the main cast and supporting characters, there’s both racial and gender diversity in the work group. And, Auggie’s blindness means that a disabled character has a huge role in a TV show. Annie’s division is led by a woman so it’s not always Annie alone in a sea of testosterone. Overall though it’s not too much about Annie being a girl in a boy’s world.
- Annie’s boss Joan is an interesting character because she’s definitely seen as making decisions as well as being tough and powerful, but there are also times when she seems rather like a mother hen, taking Annie or Auggie aside and asking them how they feel after such-and-such situation. This is sort of a good approach toward finding a happy medium as Joan can be seen as embodying more feminine characteristics (the nurturing streak that stereotypically belongs only to women) and is not the stereotype that a woman in power must be there because she’s a bitch with no feelings.
- I like some of the more minor characters, such as Annie’s brother-in-law, her nieces, and her Mossad liaison Eyal. With this last character, I would like to see more of him and have a feeling I will. (However, it feels a little like his character is a merely the male counterpart of Ziva from NCIS, which feels like a bit of a cheat in the writing department even though I like Ziva as a character, too!)
- Even with a few scenes thrown in of Annie in a bikini or Auggie without a shirt, the show is not overly sexualized.
- There’s intrigue and the show is action packed (the first episode alone features a shoot up, car crash, hand-to-hand fighting, and even jumping out of a plane with a parachute) so there’s the traditional appeal for men while still having a female lead.
- The theme song is oddly addictive, and the soundtrack overall is well done, featuring bands such as The Gaslight Anthem, Florence + the Machine, etc.
- I really enjoy the friendship between Annie and Auggie and, while less pronounced, I also like her relationship with her sister and her nieces.
- Obviously a show about spies will involve some violence but it is not overly excessive. (Annie doesn’t even have a gun.) Instead there’s a lot of Annie thinking on her feet to get herself out of sticky situations.
- The show often features scenic views of Washington, DC and other locales (i.e., Paris, London, Venice, etc.)

- Why, oh why must Annie always be running around and getting into fights while wearing stiletto heels???? Really, can’t women’s business dress include something other than form-fitting dresses and high heels?
- The CGI in opening credits is a little off-putting. It was really terrible for the first season (note how fake her face looks in that last shot), but got a little better with second season.
- When it comes to dealing with outside agencies (i.e., Mossad, MI6, FBI), Annie really is the odd one out in an all boy’s club.
- I’m not a huge fan of Peter Gallagher in general and the whole Arthur and Joan as husband and wife subplot isn’t pulling me. I don’t care for the angst between them, especially in the first episode where Joan was so paranoid and convinced that he was cheating on her to go as far as using agency resources to “prove” it.
- There’s the occasional use of an obvious green screen background.
- And while I like the sort of wink-and-smile nod indicating a romance could blossom between Eyal and Annie, I feel like the show just can’t stop giving potential partners to Annie. We’ve seen the show try to create sexual tension for Annie with Ben, Dr. Scott Weiss, Jai, numerous assets, and even the occasional hint of something more sparking between Annie and Auggie. It’s just a little too much at times. Pick a guy (or two if you feel you need the jealousy angle) and work on that tension; don’t keep throwing more into the mix.
- Jumping off from that point, I’m not a fan of the Annie likes Jai/Jai likes Annie angle. Maybe in part because the viewer knows more than Annie in that Jai is up to something (put in the DPD by Arthur to watch Annie), but I frequently find myself wondering what Annie sees in him.
- Also related to the point of Annie and her love interests, in the first season, Annie is still pining over a relationship that happened two years ago and only lasted a few weeks. I understand it was mostly a plot device, but I really have a hard time buying that one.
- It bugs me on many different levels that Danielle hardly ever gets to leave her kitchen.
- It seemed in the second season that the show tried to sex things up a little too much with overblown hairdos and overdone makeup.
- The marketing in general is not so great – i.e., the clearly and overly airbrushed publicity images; ads referring to Annie as ‘the CIA’s sexiest spy.’ For real, USA? She couldn’t be the youngest, smartest, most skilled, or basically anything other trait than just a reference to the way she looks?
- And, as a viewer who often uses the Internet rather than cable, I find the 30-day waiting period to watch online more than a little ridiculous. Come on, USA, what happens when we miss a week of live TV and we don’t want to fall behind?

While there seems to be a lot of cons, I want to emphasize that the pros far outweigh the cons. Overall, I’m very pleased with the show and excited for another season.

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