COVERT AFFAIRS: Tuesday 10PM on USA
WHERE WE WERE: At the CIA, where Annie Walker (Piper Perabo), the young, beautiful languages expert who supposedly works for the Smithsonian, is actually an agent. (She met a guy on the beach while on vacation… it’s not worth getting into.) Specifically, Annie works in the Domestic Protection Division under Joan Campbell (Kari Matchett), who’s married (sometimes bumpily) to her own boss, Director of the National Clandestine Service Arthur Campbell (Peter Gallagher). Annie’s co-workers are often scheming against each other as much as they’re trying to save the world, and no one schemes more than Jai Wilcox (Sendhil Ramamurthy), son of a former CIA official. Jai has plotted his way up to the Agency’s Office For Special Projects, a division as shadowy as its name. The one person Annie can really trust is blind agent Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham), who may be her soulmate. For the first couple of seasons, Annie was hiding her real profession from her sister Danielle (Anne Dudek), but now Danielle knows the truth.
WHERE WE ARE: Watching a car blow up. That car seemingly held Jai Wilcox, although no one except Annie will be shocked if later in the season it turns out Jai isn’t quite so dead after all. For now, though, he’s gone, and that kicks up all manner of disruption. Auggie is given Jai’s old job at Special Projects–except that Jai kept everything so encrypted that Auggie can’t get into what are now his files. And Annie has been reassigned from Joan’s division to a new and mysterious arm of the Agency run by the risk-taking Lena Smith (Sarah Clarke).
The season premiere of COVERT AFFAIRS, written by series creators Matt Corman and Chris Ord, and directed by Allan Kroeker, does a fine job of kicking off the show’s 3d season. Covert is the kind of breezy escapism that’s given USA its brand, the network’s trademark “procedural-plus,” but one that’s always been a little weak on the “plus” side, with story arcs that are complicated but in a half-hearted, uninvolving way. It’s unclear just how many of the changes set out in the premiere are going to stick: Matchett is still a series regular and Sarah Clarke is a guest star, so make of that what you will. But casting Clarke as Annie’s ambiguous new mentor was inspired, since for those with TV memories she was Nina Myers on 24, one of the greatest double agents of all. The season at least looks like it’s going to give us more to chew on than usual.
Covert‘s strength has been its procedural ingenuity, as Annie tracks down or helps a spy-of-the-week. The show does an excellent job of working within its limited cable budget, with some judicious international travel and effective action scenes (the premiere featured a chase set in a Marrakesh souk and a credible sandstorm). Perabo is an appealing lead, and it seems like this season Annie is going to be considerably less callow than she’s been before, which should help Perabo give some shading to the part. (The premiere ended with her showering with the probable assassin she’d been investigating, who’s already linked with whatever happened to Jai). Matchett and Gallagher handle the adult roles capably, and Gorham is a fine sidekick for Annie.
Covert Affairs isn’t memorable–not even compared to other USA series like Suits–but it’s accomplished summer entertainment that goes down easy. If this season proves to be its first that succeeds on a larger canvas as well, all the better.