The crux of “Whiskey Cavalier” can be found right in its protagonist’s name. “Will Chase” is a purposefully ridiculous wink of a name that tries to be both debonair and very silly all at once, just like the FBI agent (played by Scott Foley) to which it belongs. This isn’t a regular spy drama, “Whiskey Cavalier” insists at every turn, but a fun spy drama that refuses to take itself too seriously. Yes, it’s cheesy, but it’s hard to hold that against the show too much when it’s also half the point.
Despite its hour-long run time, the series was created by David Hemingson (“Just Shoot Me”), produced by Bill Lawrence (“Scrubs”), and directed in part by Peter Atencio (“Key and Peele”), so the pedigree behind it is more comedic than rooted in drama. Its characters banter and give each other (friendly) grief, joking on the job rather than wallowing too hard in the life or death stakes of it all. All told, “Whiskey Cavalier” is so aggressively breezy that it takes a second to realize that its jokes could generally be sharper than, say, someone mistaking a penis for keys. (How, you ask? Who cares, responds “Whiskey Cavalier” with a winsome grin.)
This determination to entertain, however, doesn’t mean that the show is a straight-up spoof. In fact, it takes its spy hijinks seriously enough that Atencio gets to sink his teeth into several high octane action sequences, complete with hand to hand combat, risky stunts, and some serious explosions. The series was also largely filmed on location in Prague, which immediately distinguishes “Whiskey Cavalier” from the dozens of broadcast network drama faking seasons in or around Los Angeles soundstages.
The show also embraces some of the more well-worn cliches of spy thrillers, especially with its leads. Will (alias”Whiskey Cavalier”) is an FBI agent balancing his sterling reputation in the field with a recent heartbreak. His mismatched partner is Frankie (Lauren Cohan), a hard as nails CIA operative who “doesn’t do emotional attachments” and just about literally calls herself a lone wolf. There’s at least some attempts at flipping the gender script here, since Will’s problem is that he gets too emotional while Frankie refuses to acknowledge that she ever could feel a thing, but the show leans so hard on these defining characteristics that it sometimes forgets to show us anything else about either character. (It also keeps insisting that Will and Frankie have undeniable sexual chemistry, but at least in the two episodes screened for critics, that has yet to prove itself.)
Will and Frankie are also, as per spy comedy tradition, surrounded by a team of more diverse characters who stop them from making complete fools out of themselves. Susan (Ana Ortiz) is the FBI’s best profiler and Will’s best friend; Edgar (Tyler James Williams) is a former NSA employee whose hacking skills come in handy; Jai (Vir Das) is a tech expert and the only person Frankie trusts without reservation. The team dynamic needs more time to gel as the cast gets comfortable with each other and their roles, but Williams, at least, comes out the gate strong as an early standout.
ABC is premiering “Whiskey Cavalier” after the Oscars before returning the show to its usual time slot, which indicates at least some modicum of confidence in its ability to grab an audience, which may prove to be a smart play. “Whiskey Cavalier” isn’t about to revolutionize TV as we know it, but at least it goes down easy.
Premieres February 24 after the Academy Awards on ABC.
Cast: Scott Foley, Lauren Cohan, Ana Ortiz, Tyler James Williams, Jai Datta, Josh Hopkins.
Crew: Executive producers: David Hemingson, Bill Lawrence, Jeff Ingold, Peter Atencio.