Undercovers: Thrills, Chills, Spills and… Catering?

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J.J. Abrams’s new spy series, Undercovers [NBC, Wednesdays, 8/7C], is structured around a married couple who left the spy game behind to devote themselves to building a life with each other – and a successful catering business. When a CIA agent goes missing, putting a key operation at risk, they are asked to step in. And thus the Blooms – Steven [Boris Kodjoe, Resident Evil: Aftermath] and Samantha [Gugu Mbatha Raw, Bonekickers] – find themselves gallivanting all over the world in search of Leo Nash [Carter MacIntyre] in order to put Operation Black Swan back on the rails.

After five years – and in the midst of a huge, chaotic catering gig – the Blooms are approached by Carlton Shaw [Gerald McRaney], a rather dour fellow, to help find Nash. It is not his favorite assignment and he makes no bones about it. The next morning, Steven tells Shaw he’ll do it – if his wife never finds out, but guess who’s in Shaw’s office already.

Operation Black Swan is, apparently, a plan to take down an enterprising Russian arms dealer named Slotsky. Capitalism seems to really be working over there…

Undercovers is a light-hearted romp [with maybe a couple of broken fingers…] that may call to mind Doug Liman’s Mrs. & Mrs. Smith – with a couple of notable exceptions: The Blooms are black and they are happily [very happily] married. One similarity is that their adventuring together has a uniquely bonding effect.

Really, there’s not much of a plot to the show’s premiere. It’s a mix of romance and action, with some intermingling of the two. Kodjoe and Mbatha Raw have terrific chemistry and both look like they stepped out an issue of Vogue [he was a model, she was not]. Their interplay is what makes the show work, however fantastic their missions might be – and is especially funny at moments like when Steven learns that Samantha and Leo went out for eight or nine months prior to their meeting.

There are touches that will be appreciated by Abrams’ fans – like the unique thumb drive that holds key information and a support agent, Hoyt [Ben Schwartz] who worships Steven [he knows about all his missions!]. On the homefront, there’s Samantha’s kid sister, Lizzy [Jessica Parker Kennedy], who’s probably supposed to be comic relief – at least that’s the way she comes across, though she’s not all that funny and could probably have been removed with no real impact on the show.

The show may be fanciful and romantic on one side, and tough and spirited on the other, but it’s McRaney’s Shaw who keeps things grounded. A career CIA agent who considers the Blooms dilettantes, he is as curmudgeonly as they come – and doesn’t care who knows it.

The premiere was written by J.J. Abrams and Jeff Reims and is, for the most part great fun. Some of the transitions between the Blooms’ “real life” and their new mission are a bit jarring, and the couple take some chances that make no sense, coming as they do in the midst of potentially dangerous situations [“I want us to remember the last time we danced”], but overall, Abrams – who also directed – has put together an entertainment that works well. Now if he’d just find a way to get rid of the sister…

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