Ever since the Cold War ended, spy-story aficionados have sought a way to revive the genre within the context of the new world order. This latest series from Barry Sonnenfeld’s company simply lets the context remain vague — our secret agent works for “the agency,” the bad guy for “another organization” — and relies on a retro chic style to entertain. Result? The “Charlie’s Angels”-like computer-generated silhouettes in the credits are more expressive than the live-action figures who sleep-walk through the plot. Smartly counter-programming election coverage on Super Tuesday, UPN might ensure some decent sampling, but unless the series finds a reason for being in a hurry, audience slippage will be fast and furious.
Costas Mandylor plays Monk, well-dressed Casanova and smart-aleck secret agent. He’s partnered with sexy Holiday (Dina Meyer), who always knows where he is and will certainly soon harbor a crush, and Davis (Dondre Whitfield), high-tech whiz and general tag-a-long. Pilot gets moving when Monk’s date with a generously proportioned lady-friend is interrupted by former lover Prima (Musetta Vander), who claims she wants to defect from her side to his. Motivation? She loves Monk, of course. ‘Nuff said.
As Monk tries to “bring her in,” arch-villain Vargas (Jsu Garcia) begins showing off the power of his newest toy, an electro-magnetic gun that can, and does, black out all of Manhattan (which here looks surprisingly like Vancouver). He’ll take society back to the Stone Age unless his single demand is met: he wants Prima delivered back to him for what would undoubtedly be a fatal reunion. Soon, Monk finds himself abandoned by the very agency he works for, “locked out” as they say in spy lingo, although here they’ve dropped the “in the cold” that used to complete the phrase.
Perhaps future episodes of “Secret Agent Man” will put the agent into a position where he’s actually secret, or, at least, at the center of the story. Monk here is pretty peripheral to the action, although he’s given a couple of fight scenes, punctuated with slow-motion and freeze-frames within a story that’s too difficult to follow from one scene to the next.
Mandylor makes David Duchovny’s acting style seem positively baroque. Every once in a while he’ll bite his lip or wiggle his eyebrows while he mumbles his lines. Meyer’s better as Holiday, but she’s hamstrung by not having much of a character to work with.
Opening shots immediately reference “X-Files” and “ER,” as if the first thought here was to create a spoof, but overflowing producing committee soon decided on a different direction. Exactly what that other direction is remains unknown. Maybe it’s a secret.