After a stretch where my DVD player looked squeamish at the prospect of swallowing another NBC pilot (or maybe I’m projecting), along comes “My Own Worst Enemy” — a slick, modern spy yarn infused with the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” formula. Christian Slater enjoys the meaty dual role, in which a seemingly ordinary guy lives an exotic “True Lies”-type existence as a secret agent — the qualifier being his two halves are initially unaware of each other. There’s definitely a series here; how it fares depends on which aspects of the show’s split personality triumph.
Slater’s Edward is introduced bedding a fabulous woman who warns him about taking on a Russian operative. Upon completing the mission, he returns home to meet with his boss (Alfre Woodard), making sure that there are no “continuity issues” to address — like explaining away cuts and bruises — before he returns to life as Henry, a white-collar father of two, whose wife (Madchen Amick) complains about his frequent business travel.
Rather quickly — and a rapid pace here is key to obscure lapses in logic — Henry begins to experience interludes in which Edward emerges, while Henry pops out at the most inopportune times, such as when Edward is in the midst of a perilous assignment. Familiar as the setup is (I kept thinking of Danny Kaye snapping his fingers and changing personalities in “The Court Jester”), it creates all kinds of opportunities, from comedy to suspense.
The “True Lies” comparison is also apt, inasmuch as Henry/Edward has a Tom Arnold-like co-worker (comic Mike O’Malley) and comes across as staid and boring to his wife and kids.
The Jekyll-Hyde schism has been one of the most durable of literary adaptations (including a recent British version, “Jekyll,” which struck some of the same contemporary notes), and Slater appears to relish the chance to sink his teeth into it. Since coming of age, the actor has occasionally seemed as if he’s busy perfecting a Jack Nicholson impersonation, but the Henry personality allows him to explore his vulnerability — and he does so effectively.
Given a premise so rife with possibilities, “Alias” alum John Eisendrath and series creator Jason Smilovic must avoid the landmines that crippled Smilovic’s last adventure in reluctant heroism for NBC, “Bionic Woman.” For starters, “Enemy” should probably lean toward its darker side — and away from the lighthearted tone of its Monday-night companion “Chuck,” which also centers on a regular guy thrust into an outlandish Bondian milieu. In addition, such a concept invites questions as to whether the pilot’s action quotient can be sustained.
Done right, there should be some audience available in this timeslot (opposite “CSI: Miami”) for such a show, even with the dwindling strength of NBC’s “Heroes” lead-in. The pilot gingerly lays out most of the elements “My Own Worst Enemy” will need to survive — leaving it to the show to either make its strange case or live down to its name.