Heavily steeped in cop show and action adventure roots, “UC: Undercover” takes its cue from amusement park thrill rides. Director Tony Bill gives viewers jolts and scares from the opening segment to its cliffhanger finale, but in the end it’s just a lot of hype. What it lacks in intrigue, though, it makes up for in firepower.
To distinguish the show from the confounding number of other elite crime-fighting forces introduced this season, the producers will have to carefully balance the action with the intrigue. There’s always going to be somebody out there bigger and louder, but if “UC” steers more in the direction of “Crime Story” or “Wise Guy,” the show may find a Sunday night following.
The special anti-crime unit known as UC goes after the biggest and baddest this country has to offer. Led by former FBI agent Frank Donovan (Oded Fehr), the group operates on an independent basis but often goes up against opportunistic Justice Department boss Paul Bloom (Brian Markinson).
Team consists of undercover agents Jake Shaw (Jon Seda) and Alex Cross (Vera Farmiga) as well as psychological profiler Monica Davis (Bruklin Harris) and resident tech expert/computer wizard Cody (Jarred Paul).
Pilot episode has the agents tracking career criminal Sonny Walker (William Forsythe), a charismatic but lethal man who controls a very tight group of bank robbers. By offering twisted fatherly advice and a corrupt retirement plan, Sonny manages to draw loyal and talented accomplices.
When Sonny is forced to kill one of his members to keep him from talking after a job gone wrong, Jake goes deep undercover to infiltrate the gang. Alex assists in the deception, but to authenticate her identity she has to enlist the help of her former lover, Cortez (Steven Bauer), whom she helped put behind bars.
Instead of the usual criminal-of-the-week scenario, the writers set the stage for a convoy of returning characters including Bauer and Forsythe. The producers also have rounded up some very high-profile guest stars for future episodes including Ving Rhames as drug lord Quito Real and Angie Everhart as Sonny Walker’s girlfriend.
“The Mummy’s” Fehr, added after some retooling of the pilot, is a commanding and interesting addition to television. His character essentially replaces Grant Show, whose character Keller created UC, but doesn’t get to stick around to enjoy the fruits of his labor. One would guess that if Show can’t be trusted to run an apartment complex on “Melrose Place,” he doesn’t have the credibility to head an elite crime-fighting squad.
The beguiling-looking Farmiga and Seda get to have the most fun with their parts, although Farmiga is restricted to wardrobe changes and wigs, while Seda gets all of the action. Still, the pilot makes a decent attempt to introduce intriguing backstories for their characters.
Technical credits are comparable to theatrical quality, which isn’t always a good thing, considering such frenetic direction doesn’t fit well on the small screen. The smaller visual field makes it much easier to assault the senses. Much more soothing is the main title and score from Grammy winner David Arnold.