Where's the J.J. Abrams in Undercovers?

J.J. Abrams is worshipped in some parts of the world, mostly in parents' basements where pasty-skinned nerds dwell. His track record speaks for itself: Lost, the new Star Trek, and Fringe all smack of J.J. Intrigue, mystery, and action are his calling cards, and he's worked those elements to the bone. So you'll have to excuse him if he wants to try something a little different.

The question is: Is that what we want? J.J.'s Undercovers is a departure for him, a spy adventure about a husband-and-wife team that comes out of "retirement" to get back into the covert ops game. At best, Undercovers is an ample time-waster that mixes action and romance. At worst, Undercovers is a blip on Abrams' resume and doesn't make it through the first season.

Here's what the show does right, and what it does wrong...


Bad: It's either not light enough or not serious enough.
The show's most glaring problem. Undercovers is trying to balance being an easy spy show (like Chuck) with being a legit spy show (like Alias). It needs to lean one way or the other; otherwise it's a lesser version of the two shows it's trying to be.


Good: It's got a good, almost great cast.
Abrams has a knack for finding talent (did anyone know who Josh Holloway, Michael Emerson, or Evangeline Lilly were before Lost?) and in Undercovers he has some good ones. Boris Kodjoe (Steven Bloom) is a stud to be reckoned with, Ben Schwartz (Bill) has the potential to be TV's go-to comic relief, and Carter MacIntyre (Leo) has wise-cracking charisma. All are relative unknowns with big upswings.


Bad: Gugu Mbatha-Raw is miscast.
Pretty as she is, she just doesn't sell "elite spy" to me. Sure, she can kick people's butts, but I don't buy her regular persona fitting in with profile of a covert agent.


Bad: The show requires too much suspension of belief.
We're just supposed to believe things happen when we should really be getting an inside look at their operations. This detracts from our interest in the actual spy game, which presumably we all turned on our televisions to see. It's undercover operations for beginners. And how about when Bill told Steven and Samantha to get out of the bank because the jig was up? The Blooms simply strolled out the backdoor, having a laugh along the way. Whaaaa?


Good: The show has realized what it needs to fix.
The pilot that aired last night is slightly different from the advanced screener they sent out. And the fixes were in the right places: The producers enhanced the intrigue a bit (the episode we screened never had Gerald saying anything about the Blooms not knowing why they were actually being reactivated) and ditched some of the excess, like Samantha's tiresome catering business.


I get that it's supposed to be a fun show and probably shouldn't be grouped in with J.J.'s other work, but Undercovers already looks to be in trouble. If it figures out what kind of show it is, it could be worth checking back in on.


What did you think of the premiere?


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

Comments (36)
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Totally agree with the 'not light enough and not serious enough'. Its very Mr. and Mrs. Smith and I wasn't to crazy about that movie. Otherwise though, like Tim says its an ample time waster. Something to watch while we wait for the JJ Abrams show with Michael Emerson and Terry O' Quin.
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Totally Agree! Gugu was more likely cast b/c her back story intersects w/ Kodjoe's (African fathers who are doctors, etc). The story line is to pedestrian, I don't know how many more times I will believe that the 6'3" runway Adonis Kodjoe shows up as the repair guy?!
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"J.J.'s Undercovers is a departure for him, a spy adventure about a husband-and-wife team that comes out of "retirement" to get back into the covert ops game."

Alias?????
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Agree with your review 100%! Didn't sell to me as believable. I love true spy shows and this was just weak. I'm willing to give it another try and see what comes next week but they really need to bring a believable story line on espionage. Completely agree too that the female lead was a bad casting option, you think spy you want to see that edgy, sexy mean character that makes you want to be her doing what she does. Overall rating for me so far 1 1/2 stars out of 5
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I might watch it, but I pretty much knew the entire plot of the show in the first scene.
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I loved Lost but I hated Undercovers!!

It was just dumb



WATCH BETTER WITH YOU, Wedsnesdays 8:30/7:30C on ABC
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I liked it. But is not what you would expect from J.J. Anyway i am going to watch more, let's see how it develops
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Maybe they will sneak in a plane landing on aan island
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Suspension of belief? However a plane crashing on a magical island is way more plausible...
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I didn't like the pilot. I was hoping it would be cool as Alias' early days, but it wasn't. :(
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I'm still rather lukewarm about the show in general, hopefully it improves.
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The first show really seemed more like "spy summer fare" from the USA network, than another JJ Abrams blockbuster TV series. In fact, Burn Notice was a helluva lot better from the get-go, and the characters in Burn Notice are more interesting to watch. Undercovers seemed more like Covert Affairs to me, nothing wrong with it, but nothing special about it either. I think most networks need to get away from all these spy shows, they are, for the most part, all starting to resemble each other. Fringe, on the other hand, really got better with each show, so maybe this one will too.
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hmmm reading all this I think I better stay away from this show.
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I was surprised as well. I thought I would give it a chance then write it off, but this show was pretty good. It shouldn't be compared to any other of J.J.s stuff. What was disappointing was the Event. Don't diss the show because it's not believable. It's entertaining and I see a future for it
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I was surprised and impressed, partly because I'd been prepared to dismiss this as another silly spy caper, and practically everyone's a spy these days. But the Blooms are so beautiful and charismatic and they've got buckets of chemistry.

Think of it like "Castle," which has nothing to do with the NYPD homicide division solving crimes and has everything to do with Castle and Becket's relationship. The Blooms aren't spies. They're a couple having wild adventures, and as for J.J. Abrams, it starts with "Alias" and runs through the romantic triangle in "LOST."

Basically, "The Undercovers" reminded me of "Hart to Hart" with a stronger Jennifer. I want to see where this goes. Very pleased. :)
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It was pretty good, it just wasn't great. The casting was the high point, but I disagree slightly. I thought all the actors were perfect choices and did well.

But yeah, this show needs a little "something" if it's going to make it.
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Can't say anything would attract me back for a second look, unless it was Boris Kodjoe...'cuz I'm shallow that way!
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Dunno where people were finding any trace of seriousness in Undercovers. The show could easily turn bad if Abrams started taking it seriously. Too many people on the Net expected Alias again. I hated Alias and I like this better. I also appreciate that they are already married so I don't have to sit through a tiring stupid WT/WT.
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The premiere was was "okay". I hope the show improves with age.
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OK, I took the nerds-in-the-basement thing way too hard. It's still a lame, unimaginative line, though. I watched Undercovers tonight, and this show definitely has to step it up or it's going on the chopping block for sure. I've already watched Alias, and it did it better than this. Some of the writing is bland, and I'm tired of fantastic, magical computer hackery. Has spy fiction not matured beyond this? Cant it be real, and yet enjoyable?
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@DavidOdonova uh any reason you said that 4 times: the show needs a bit more tweaking but other than that I like it and it is really hard to come up with original stuff now a days I don't see any of you guys making better shows
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The problem with it is anybody could have made this show. It isn't bad, but it doesn't stand out as anything original either. There's too much out there to choose from for a show like this to make it if it doesn't have something to make people keep in their TiVo queue. I'll give it a few more weeks, but it is in danger of dropping out of mine.
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i watched chuck and love it and watched the pilot of undercovers, i thought that it was kk but no where near as good as chuck. Chuck has great comedy over the first 3 series and has actually got more serious which is seen in the season 3 finale.
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Ha ha, yeah guys. I only use the nerd stereotype because it's stupid. It was a joke. But I may still pee on you anyway.
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Pretty average show at best, the fact that NBC picked it up as opposed to FOX which already airs Fringe tells you a lot. I only tuned in cos of JJ Abrams name in the credits, but heck the pilot was so boring and disjointed. It's definitely not Chuck as some have said as that show is very funny and action packed.

The characters are so bland, with the exception of Gerald McRaney (Jericho, A-Team) who looked interesting. The storyline was fairly mundane and predictable, with the absence of suspense and mystery noticeably absent (a hallmark of JJ's other work). My prediction: with Chuck going strong NBC will let go of his duplicate spy drama before Christmas.
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I felt underwhelmed, too. I'll give it one or two more episodes, and if it doesn't get better, that's one less show to watch.
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Odd. I did not notice the miscasting and that's usually something I notice (like every single person in the A-team movie). Let me just say that as a confirmed nerd I do not like to go out in the sunlight, and I suggest to other nerds to live in their parents basements as long as possible, so as to have a bigger budget for more gadgets and other gear. The only thing I WOULD take issue with is the idea that nerds like JJ Abrams. He's way too softcore and mainstream.
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Just seen it and somewhat underwhelmed. Somewhat hard to believe JJ is connected to this extraordinarily average piece of fluff with his track record. It needs more "Mr & Mrs Smith", and less "Killers".
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@yotaruvegeta LOL...it's a joke dude, don't take it too serious.



Agree with undecovers...it was BORING yesterday. I turned it off when they escaped the bank manager...I don't know how, they didn't show! :D. I thought part of what makes Spy shows fun is the breaking in and escaping from the enemies...oh well.
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meh beside JJ Abram's namebrand-- this show has little appeal for me.
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dont piss on me like i am some zombie follower.. @yotaruvegeta nicely said.
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Tim this review is on point!
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Tim Surette, what a lame, disgusting piece. "In parents basements," really? How original and brilliant. Yeah, nobody else appreciates the work that JJ Abrams has done. Are you a paid writer?

How many DECADES has it been since the lame stereotype of the nerd has been created. It's so tired. I'd probably agree with you about Undercovers, but your attitude is garbage. Have your agenda, but don't piss on me like I'm some kind of zombie follower. Who wants to read that?
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It was highly watchable, but really seemed like the married version of Chuck. I didn't get much of a serious vibe at all from it and as you said it is pretty ridiculous with a lot of things. The verdict: if you love Chuck then you should watch it. If you don't like Chuck or are looking for something more mature and dramatic rather than goofy and comedic, don't.
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Agree with pretty much everything.
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agree.
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