This is the thinking man’s spy show, the “Law & Order” of the new bunch of CIA/FBI-focused hourlongs that peer into covert worlds of espionage. “The Agency” had its premiere episode yanked due to its subject matter — Osama bin Laden forces planning to bomb Harrods in London — and in the long run it benefits from this sharper and simpler debut.
Portions of the initial premiere that dealt with character introduction found their way into Thursday’s segment, which CBS did not supply for review prior to the airing. Wisely, though, the agents’ personal dilemmas took a back seat to the group’s mission — figure out who is trying to kill Fidel Castro on his visit to the U.S.
The operation’s mainstays are Matt Callan (Gil Bellows of “Ally McBeal”), who is consumed by the in-the-line-of-duty death of his agent brother; the fatherly Jackson Haisley (Will Patton), who combines an air of superiority with a caustic gruffness; Lisa Fabrizzi (Gloria Reuben), a particularly adept agent; and Terri Lowell (Paige Turco), a graphics designer looking for a more challenging line of work.
They are overseen by Alex Pierce (Ronny Cox) and Joshua Nankin (David Clennon) who approach their charges with wildly differing styles: Pierce is a commanding officer, Nankin a benevolent uncle. Their roles, for the time being, are slightly underwritten, leaving the door open for more fleshed out segments down the road.
Premiere takes the D.C.-based agents on a 40-year history lesson of planned U.S.-Cuba attacks and alliances until they come across one anti-Castro force that was contracted in 1963 to kill the island’s dictator. Nobody, seemingly, told the anti-Castro people that the deal was off.
Show winds its way through interviews, photographs, records searches and rhetoric; “They’re afraid of a peaceful end,” Pierce says sternly. Assassin’s plot is foiled by circumstance, but Callan saves the day with brute force in a rather unconvincing closing.
Alex Zakrzewski’s direction is efficient in a show that isn’t looking to break any new ground. This episode, more than the originally scheduled premiere, emphasizes the crime-solving over home lives, and it makes for a more compelling show. Of course, “The Agency” is going up against the eighth season of “ER,” which blends lives at work and at home with an uncommon seamlessness.
“The Agency” appears to have good intentions. It’s not aimed at a particular demographic, it doesn’t rely on special effects or promoting its stars, and it’s content to live in a humorless world that focuses on the activity at hand. It’s old-fashioned, just like “Law & Order,” and one imagines that if given a chance to take a few baby steps forward, “The Agency” could grow up into something substantial.