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TV PREVIEW: The New Season

Not enough cookin' in NBC's 'Undercovers'

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The drama series, which was co-created and executive-produced by J.J. Abrams ("Lost"), stars Boris Kodjoe ("Soul Food") and Gugu Mbatha-Raw ("Dr. Who") as an ordinary married couple, who just happen to be retired CIA agents. When a good friend -- and fellow spy -- goes missing, the couple find themselves back in action. "Undercovers" premieres Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. ET.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Your enjoyment of NBC's monogamous sexpionage drama "Undercovers" will be directly proportional to your tolerance for the dreaded "Whatever Technology."

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That's a term coined, I believe, by a "24" recapper back in the nascent days of TV bloggers. It refers to the comically convenient, wildly fast laptops, satellite imagery and face recognition software that cuts all the corners, making today's techno-thrillers possible, if not plausible.

"Undercovers," which premieres Wednesday night, loves Whatever Technology, because it hasn't left itself much time for plot. "Run a vascular ID check and see if it matches," secret agent Steven Bloom (Boris Kodjoe) tells his wife, Samantha (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). She points her laptop at a glowing infrared blob sensed on the second floor of an abandoned Moscow warehouse across the street. Hum-beep-zip. The computer confirms, instantly, that's their man! (Or at least, those are his veins.)

And this comes after many other presto-clickos: keychain Zip drives, uploaded ATM camera footage, IP addresses detected by GPS. This isn't espionage, it's an old issue of Wired.

Some people can't watch shows like this. They scream so much about the IT issues that their spouses ask them to leave the room.

And speaking of spouses, the real point of "Undercovers" is that it is a story about a husband and wife who are madly hot-hot-hot for one another. That's always a nice idea. The Blooms run a frenzied catering company, barely balancing the books. In the midst of prepping the fare for the big Chan-Finkelstein wedding, they are visited by their past (and television's): Gerald McRaney as a CIA muckety-muck who requests their help, and he's not looking for puff pastries.

The Blooms, as plenty of pre-show hype has explained, are former secret agents. Though they never worked together on assignment, they did meet at the CIA, fell immediately in love and decided to leave it all behind and start catering. Isn't that . . . hot? In addition to Mbatha-Raw and Kodjoe's distractingly good looks, there's the tantalizing promise in "Undercovers" of kitchen porn (gas stoves, copper cookware!) and food lust (beef ribs? At a wedding? Show us!). I'd love nothing more than to watch these two cater like there's no tomorrow.

Unfortunately, the makers of "Undercovers" (who at least nominally include "Lost's" J.J. Abrams, as executive producer) have decided to send the Blooms off to solve international crime.

The two reluctantly accept a mission to locate their old friend Leo, an agent on assignment in Europe. Leo disappeared from a Paris hotel while in pursuit of the world's most stereotypical Russian thug. (Petrovsky? Snorosky? Blandosky?) So it's off to Madrid, then Paris, then Moscow. Steven's good at cracking computer codes; Samantha is good at evening wear. Following some formulaic recipe for these sorts of shows, the duo acquire an annoying assistant (Ben Schwartz) who acts as their sycophantic fixer -- he arranges planes, parachute drops, ammo supply and, apparently, extra bandwith for all the Whatever Technology.

"Undercovers" is watchable only because of its stars, whose chemistry recalls the fonder days of "Hart to Hart"-style high jinks. "How did we end up here?" Samantha asks as Steve prepares to ambush the baddies' Moscow warehouse. "I think maybe we never left," he sighs.

Much has been made (too much) of the fact that "Undercovers" stars two black people; within the first five minutes, that ceases to be news. It's much more interesting to catch glimpses of the Blooms' fidelity and mutual attraction, which is woven into dialogue about classified documents and illegal arms dealing. For all its jumpy, shooty, sexy potential, "Undercovers" is going nowhere if the spy cases are all as boring and predictable as the first episode's.

Meanwhile, what about the Chan-Finkelstein wedding?! Thousands of miles away, Samantha's sister (Mekia Cox) is handling hors d'oeuvres and making frantic calls to the couple for advice, unaware that Samantha is about to go chasing after Snorkovsky (Dullsky? Boredstiffsky?) to shoot a rocket at his SUV.

I understand that the Blooms were meant to kick it, but I'd rather see them cook it.

Undercovers

(one hour) debuts Wednesday at 8 p.m. on NBC.



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