Not enough that the kitchen sink leaks, you're late for your teenage daughter's birthday party and your little boy is having trouble with his swing at Little League. No, darn it, you've also got to dash off to the Ukraine to foil an assassination plot against Mikhail Gorbachev.
What's a yuppie spy to do? We find out tonight, when ABC premieres its new drama series "Under Cover" with a two-hour pilot episode at 9 on Channel 7, after which the series moves to Saturdays, taking over the timeslot vacated by the dear and departed "China Beach."
Although it does indeed explore some of the outer realms of far-fetchedness, "Under Cover," which is from "China Beach" creators John Sacret Young and William Broyles Jr., proves surprisingly absorbing, even when only moderately convincing. The cast is very strong, and though the plot of tonight's pilot seems a trifle out of date, the first two regular episodes (airing Jan. 12 and 19) take place in Kuwait and Iraq at the time of the Iraqi invasion.
Given the political hue of Hollywood, one might be expecting a series about a federal intelligence agency very very much like, but not called, the CIA (the original series title was "The Company") to look askance at covert activities. Au contraire. "Under Cover" presents the spies as heroic, although it does portray some of the bureaucrats back at headquarters as slimy, vacillating clucks.
Anthony John Denison, who made a solid impression in the NBC series "Crime Story," plays Dylan Del'Amico, who in tonight's show is emerging from 10 years as a double agent, one the Soviets had thought of as their own. Dylan comes in from the cold, but the cold comes after him.
He's not the only spy in the house, however. His wife, Kate, played by the formidable Linda Purl, has been retired from the service for 10 years and, even as the Cold War ends, is pressed into service again. Along to lend support is that noble pro of a character actor John Rhys-Davies as Flynn, a burly crony.
The spy trade, it seems, like a lot of other businesses, is being taken over by the computer technicians and the button pushers. Dylan, Kate and Flynn belong to a tribe dismissed by the new-timers as "obsolete" and "cowboys." But they get the job done, by cracky; they're brave foot soldiers showing up the Ivy League wimps manning the desks back home.
And then there are the hard-liners who hated to see the Cold War go; one must worry about them too. "Be careful, my friend; we still have old men who dream of tanks and blood," a dying KGB man warns Dylan. The new agency director hopes that Gorbachev will fall because life was simpler and more orderly when the Cold War was at full frost: "We could use a new Stalin there" because it would "give us our enemy back."
Where the drama is most affecting tonight is in scenes of Kate and Dylan attempting to raise a family (including one daughter by his previous marriage) as if they were a normal, ordinary couple with average workaday jobs. Things get silly when the derring-do is done -- when Kate hops a jet to Yalta hoping to keep Flynn from bumping off Dylan.
On Saturday night, in the first half of the suspenseful two-parter, Kate arrives for a seemingly dull assignment in Kuwait just before the Iraqis invade; Dylan and Flynn rush over to Baghdad hoping to save her. Meanwhile, two attractive and horribly under-prepared rookie agents -- a woman and a man -- are caught in complicating cross-fire. The male agent stupidly gets an Israeli spy killed, then must risk his life to help prevent a rotten Iraqi colonel from setting off a germ-warfare missile.
Are they really going to be able to keep this up week after week? A show about the home life of spies, even yuppie spies, has potential, but on the early episodes of "Under Cover," there's too much field work and not enough of that home life.
There's another problem. In a time of such disconcerting and widespread world peril, it might be comforting to have a television show in which espionage professionals go about their business with crisp efficiency. This is not that show. There's too much bumbling, and the heroes are a tad too demonstratively sensitive.
Even with the drawbacks, the show has more intelligence and character than most TV dramas. As writer, co-executive producer Broyles deftly avoids some of the more fashionable cliches of our times, and there are such quiet ironies as having one of the bosses back home advise his agents by radio, "Abandon the safe house. It's too dangerous."
The least that can be said for "Under Cover" is that it's unlike anything on the air right now, and it's even unlike "China Beach," in that there's more action and less talk. Unfortunately, the action gets so dizzy that one may long for the talk to start up again.