With cameos by retired TV spy series reps, "Spy Game" establishes a Crayola-bright series opening with reminders of "The Avengers," "Mission: Impossible" and "I Spy," but comparisons screech to a halt there. Loud, unoriginal and unimaginative pilot isn't sophisticated enough for preteens; it should have been animated. Concept crowds around ECHO (Emergency Counter Hostilities Org), which has drawn in most of the world's out-of-work agents, who apparently aren't eligible for unemployment insurance.

Led by dour bureau chief Micah Simms (Bruce McCarty), the takeoff never does take off. Adam Quill (Cotter Smith), who thinks the president was wrong in scrapping spy orgs, has his own agenda. Veteran Lorne Cash (Linden Ashby), originally trained by master op Quill, joins ECHO and is assigned, to his chagrin, to work second banana to new agent Max London (Allison Smith), whose qualifications are deliberately vague.

ECHO’s aim is to kayo the enemies within, and the company boasts complex hardware to unnerve any opponent. London, whose talents behind a driving wheel verge on maniacal, and Cash are after a small, demonic device that, floating, can deliver a cylinder with all the devilishness of a minor hydrogen bomb. Quill opens the proceedings when he grabs a live bomb and runs into a shack that explodes around him. But instead of going up in pieces, he goes on to run an outfit of disgruntled ex-spies who want to deliver the powerful mechanism to the president for putting them on the dole.

The tricks, the gadgets, the unsurprising surprises (a tired plastic skin mask elicits a “Not this again!” from Cash) can’t carry the pilot, and acting by Ashby and Smith is bland. These spies are into choreographed fights with other agents, including that Russian operator Shank (Keith Szarabajka), who’s now on the ECHO team.

Elodie Keene’s direction is, to say the least, derivative, and Christophe Beck’s blatant score, a bangingly failed reminder of the “Mission: Impossible” theme, shows how Lalo Schifrin’s work so individualistically punctuated that earlier series. As for the disarming insouciance of the Robert Culp-Bill Cosby “I Spy” high adventures, there’s no echo.

John McNamara’s contrived script (he co-created the series with Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi) and Vincent J. Cresciman’s production design, which sticks mostly to backlot explorations, proclaim how shrewdly and professionally the three aforementioned series were devised.

Opening credits sequence, a hokey takeoff on “The Avengers,” involves Ashby and Max armed and striking poses before show’s title spelled out in oversize letters. That’s as close as the opening sesh gets to the stylish and persuasive “Avengers.” Patrick MacNee’s opening line, referring to previous TV spy adventures, says it all: “No doubt about it, Quill, we were the best!”

Will it go? There’s a considerable difference between charming tongue-in-cheek and foot-in-mouth.

Spy Game

ABC, Mon. March 3, 8 p.m.

Production

Filmed at Universal Studios and around Southern California by Renaissance Pictures/McNamara Paper Products Prods., Universal TV and Warner Bros. TV. Executive producers, Sam Raimi, Rob Rapert, John McNamara; co-executive producer, Kathy McCormick; supervising producers, David Simkins, David Eick; producer, Edward Ledding; co-producers, Gene O'Neill, Noreen Tobin, Joe Lazarov; director, Elodie Keene; writer, McNamara; creators, Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, McNamara; camera, Stephen McNutt.

Crew

Editor, Michael Eliot; production designer, Vincent J. Cresciman; sound, Richard Van Dyke; music, Christophe Beck; casting, Robert J. Urich, Eric Dawson, Carol Kritzer. 60 MIN.

Cast

Cast: Linden Ashby, Allison Smith, Bruce McCarty, Cotter Smith, Keith Szarabajka, Patrick MacNee, Robert Culp, Peter Lupus, Eve Brenner, Stephen Quadros, James Tartan, Alex Wexo, Solomon Abrams, Larry Marks.
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