Thursday, January 10, 2013

Undercovers: The Reason (1.13)

Network television is rough. You put in all this effort, work your butt off to create a vivid universe that keeps viewer interest intact, drop small hints at a bigger picture at work, and then your show gets canceled just as you begin to tell the story you want to tell. Now Undercovers didn't entirely reach that pinnacle of intrigue that the above sentences imply, but what was notable over the last run of episodes was a palpable feeling of plot strands coming together in one way or another, that the writers were aware that the mission-of-the-week routine could never sustain people's attention in the long run and that they had to create a kind of narrative spine in order to survive.

I don't know if The Reason was always intended to bring certain stories to a close, or if NBC's cancellation of the show meant a rush of resolution was in order. It's presumably the latter, considering there was a bunch of mythological elements introduced in The Key to It All that were never followed up on, but The Reason does an adequate job of rounding the show off, or at least the central mystery of why the Blooms were re-activated by the CIA.

Is the explanation satisfying? Not really. But it's at least an explanation of a sort, and it would be unfair to entirely undermine the show considering the circumstances of its exit. Here we discover that Sam's long-dead professor is in fact alive, and responsible for a series of CIA murders over the past several years. Sam and Steven were effectively used as bait to lure him out of hiding, and in the end the CIA get their man. It's not the most dynamic of revelations, even the most casual viewers would have pieced together the mystery dude's identity long ago, but again time constraints probably put a damper on fleshing out the emotional depth such a story should have probably brought.

This finale is at least fun enough on its own to be casually entertaining. Set mostly in Dubai, suspense is mined from the country's crazy surveillance culture, Sam and Steven stuck out in the field on their own and without any outside communication, arms dealers on their tails and a nuclear bomb in their bag. Undercovers blew chunks at the best of times, but the high budget was always pretty evident. The number of shoot-outs and car chases this week managed to distract from the variety of plotholes and underwhelming narrative twists.

JJ Abrams has spoken in recent years about Undercovers being one of his rare failures, a misfiring attempt to do something a little different with an old formula. You can see what he and NBC were reaching for, especially at a time in which the only shows that seemed to be surviving were those with standalone stories driven by one-shot mysteries. But that wasn't enough to hook any kind of audience. The Agents Bloom were mostly dull, their marital banter overwrought and annoying, and the only fun supporting character got written out mid-season. So, yeah, misfire. Just another show destined to be quickly forgotten about. C+

Guest stars
Alan Dale (James Kelvin); Chad Everett (Joseph Shilling); Necar Zadegan (Zarina Yasi)
Writer Michael Foley Director Stephen Williams

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