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

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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

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