TV Review: Covert Affairs – Pilot

“Covert Affairs”, from creators/writers Chris Ord and Matt Corman, is exactly how you would imagine the CIA from the USA Network’s other spy show, “Burn Notice” is like. You know, the place where Michael Weston is always trying to get back into after being burned, but we never actually see it? I would imagine it’s something along the lines of “Covert Affairs”, only less shiny. Speaking of “Burn Notice”, how about a cross-over episode with “Covert Affairs”, guys? Think about the possibilities.

Until then, we’ll just have to be satisfied with Piper Perabo, which, I’m happy to say, is a pretty good consolation prize. Perabo plays rookie CIA agent Annie Walker, a world-traveler and linguistics prodigy who is brought into the fold months before her training on the CIA’s secret compound The Farm is completed. Annie is given a not-all-that-convincing reason for her premature entry into the CIA’s ranks, and is quickly thrust into the command of Joan Campbell (Kari Matchett), the chief of one of many sections within the Agency. Joan’s husband is also her boss, Arthur Campbell (Peter Gallagher), head of the Clandestine Service Department — basically the spook unit within the spook agency. Annie’s first day on the job has her traveling to a Russian assassin’s hotel room to exchange information, but the simple job ends with Annie fleeing a rain of bullets. Welcome to the CIA, Annie!

I will admit, I didn’t think the very cute blonde girl from “Coyote Ugly” and “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” could be even remotely convincing as a well-traveled, multiple language speaking CIA spook, but I was very wrong. Piper Perabo is fantastic as Annie Walker, a self-assured, highly intelligent and highly resourceful agent-in-training. Show creators Ord and Corman give Annie an interesting background, including her decision to become a spy. Like many things in life, a broken heart has a little something to do with it. Eion Bailey co-stars as Ben Mercer, the mysterious love of Annie’s life, who left her one day after a whirlwind romance never to be seen again. Well, not for a while, at least.

The show features a strong supporting cast, with “House’s” Anne Dudek as Annie’s sister, and former Jake 2.0 himself, Christopher Gorham as Auggie Anderson, a blind CIA tech who runs Joan’s operations from Langley. It remains to be seen if the show can continue to justify the CIA keeping someone with such an overt handicap in such a vital role. But that’s just me trying to be logical. Gorham’s Auggie is a charmer, the whole blind gimmick notwithstanding, and Gorham has great chemistry with Piper Perabo. There is a ghost of a love triangle between Auggie, Annie, and Agency All-American agent Conrad Sheehan (Eric Lively) that I foresee looming somewhere in the background.

Also keep an eye out for Emmanuelle Vaugier, playing a reporter who is becoming a major pain in Arthur Campbell’s side. Former “Heroes” castaway Sendhil Ramamurthy is prominently featured in the show’s press, but he’s nowhere to be seen in the two hour pilot, so don’t bother looking for him, “Heroes” fans. Speaking of Arthur, he and wife Joan will apparently get plenty of screentime in future episodes to air their relationship, if the pilot is to be believed. To be honest with you, I’m not sure if I really care about the crumbling marriage of two veteran CIA agents. If dragged on, this could get tedious very fast, so hopefully Ord and Corman won’t turn it into a running subplot.

The question is, can Piper Perabo carry “Covert Affairs”? Honestly, I don’t see why not. There will no doubt be comparisons to Sydney Bristow of J.J. Abrams’s “Alias”, and it won’t be completely unfounded. The two shows share similarities, but there are enough differences that I never thought “Covert Affairs” was trying to purposefully ape “Alias”.

Perabo’s Annie has a very real vulnerability that makes you empathize, and at the same time revel in her success. Give the little lady another year, with some martial arts lessons and time in the gym, and she’ll be kicking ass like a pro. I only see her getting more convincing as the season goes on, and thanks to the USA Network’s progressive take on nurturing their shows instead of throwing them into the wild if they don’t immediately perform, I see a long life ahead for “Covert Affairs”.

Now guys, how about that “Covert Affairs”/”Burn Notice” crossover? Pretty please?

“Covert Affairs” premieres on the USA Network on Tuesdays July 13, 10/9 central.

Tim Matheson (director) / Chris Ord, Matt Corman (screenplay)
CAST: Eion Bailey … Ben Mercer
Anne Dudek … Danielle
Peter Gallagher … Arthur Campbell
Christopher Gorham … Auggie Anderson
Eric Lively … Conrad Sheehan III
Kari Matchett … Joan Campbell
Piper Perabo … Annie Walker
Emmanuelle Vaugier …