“Undercovers” sort of picks up where “True Lies” left off — the premise involving a married couple whose boring domestic life is really just a front for a glamorous, James Bond-type existence. Yet as constructed by producer/director/co-writer J.J. Abrams — in a lighter version of territory he mined on “Alias” — there’s also a dash of “The Pina Colada Song” in there, inasmuch as these former spies need the excitement to jump-start their relationship. To call leads Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw “attractive” would be the height of understatement, but they’re left sharing an awfully light cocktail.
Indeed, the fact that the stars are black — unremarkably so, in this color-blind context — is perhaps the closest thing to a breakthrough the program can boast.
Otherwise, “Undercovers” efficiently goes about the task of setting up the series, with Samantha (Mbatha-Raw, a U.K. native) and Steven Bloom (the Austrian-born Kodjoe) running a catering business, and both feeling too frazzled, overworked and exhausted to enjoy much passion at home.
That sense of tedium is broken, however, when the head of the shadowy spy agency for which they both once worked, Carlton Shaw (Gerald McRaney), recruits them for one more mission regarding a former colleague. Faster than you can say “Sydney Bristow,” the two are flitting around Europe, bickering over Samantha’s use of sexuality to her advantage and parachuting out of airplanes.
It’s all played with a touch of whimsy, and the pilot zips along briskly enough. Lacking, meanwhile, is any real sense of jeopardy — or, for that matter, much initial support from the ancillary cast.
Granted, the fact that both Kodjoe and Mbatha-Raw are — to use a clinical term — absolutely gorgeous certainly doesn’t hurt the scenery, though having them married dispenses with the traditional “Will they or won’t they?” tension. As a result, the basic template established by the pilot — caterers by day, covert operatives by night — makes sustaining the action and pacing paramount, and let’s face it, a similar formula hasn’t turned “Chuck” into a runaway sensation.
Then again, NBC is essentially throwing different concepts at the wall this fall — loosely connected by escapist undertones — and will likely be guided in part by whatever sticks.
“Undercovers” has its moments, but the show itself in some respects mirrors the initial problem with the central duo’s relationship — comfortable, perhaps, but failing to spark the kind of passion necessary to elicit fidelity from viewers.