This show is about as good as anyone could expect it to be, if the pilot is anything to go by.
The concept doesn't leave a whole lot of space for the unexpected and original: cute girl with so-exceptional-they-are-almost-unbelievable talents gets her dream job for the CIA, tries to balance her secret career with tame home life, and - because that would be too boring - it turns out she's actually a pawn in some sort of plan by the higher-ups. Uh-huh.
I guess I wasn't expecting, or even hoping for, much in the way of original storyline. Because, honestly, who does anymore? But I guess I was so steeped in Alias and the fact that the executive producer of Covert Affairs, Doug Liman, is also the guy behind the Bourne movies, I was expecting something a little more...serious? This show is definitely not serious. I mean, it has its moments of semi-intensity because it is a show about spies and spies like to be intense. Mostly, though, Covert Affairs is like the chick flick version of spy fiction. A good quality chick flick (oxymoron?) with redeeming qualities, true, but it is clear that the main target audience is lacking in Y-chromosomes.
Consider the main character, Annie Parker (Piper Perabo). In previews she was touted as "the girl next door" turned secret agent. Well...yeah. The part is definitely well cast. Piper Perabo is defintely Hollywood attractive, but she isn't stunning enough to be threatening; she's the friendly sort of More Beautiful Than Most People (yes, this is a matter of opinion and I'm sure there's someone out there who thinks she's the most beautiful person on the planet - I do not). This is what makes her a female protagonist female viewers can enjoy. For the male viewers, we open with a racy (by television standards) sex scene and use repeated flashbacks of Piper Perabo in a skimpy bikini. Physical attributes aside, she has those qualities most desirous in a good-girl heroine: spunk, humility, smileyness, and the occasional moment of vulnerability.
Speaking of vulnerability, though, I'm afraid I'm going to have to step up on my soapbox for a moment. This is another thing where I'm only displeased because I had such specific and (it turns out) wrong expectations, BUT: Frankly, I find it kind of insulting that the only things they have done with the Annie character so far is have every other male hit on her, put her undercover as a hooker, focus on her shoes, emphasize her dating life, arrange her first fight scene so that she needs the help of her mystery-ex-boyfriend savior, and reveal that said mystery-ex-boyfriend is the real reason she was recruited to this division of the CIA at all.
But wait! What about her badass driving skills they made sure to point out? Sure, it is just grand that they've given a female character badass driving skills. Given the Bourne-series link, one would naturally expect some epic chase scenes are in the works. But she still drives a stupid girly red car, which rather lessens the impressiveness of this choice.
This is probably a good time to state for the record that, despite the fact that I do believe everything I've said thus far, I AM ACTUALLY ENJOYING COVERT AFFAIRS AND PIPER PERABO. Seriously, I've never liked her before but she charmed me within thirty seconds so, yay! The aforementioned displeasures are just my critic brain grumping/Devil's Advocating.
Now here's the genuine displeasures:
1) The Joan/Arthur martial strife sideplot.
BOOOOO-RING. Seriously. Much as I enjoy the presence of Peter Gallagher and Kari Matchett, I would be more than happy to do without.
2) Brand-name dropping.
I mean really. Starbucks. Listerine. I know there was at least one more I can remember at the moment. This in-show semi-subliminal advertising is getting a little ridiculous. TV networks, I know y'all need money just as much as the rest of us, but come on now. You could at least try to be sneaky about it.
3) Auggie being blind.
I expect I am going to get a lot of disagreement (read: outrage) from saying this but, the blindness thing is totally unnecessary. It is nothing but a cheap gag and I am calling Covert Affairs out on it. Christopher Gorham is perfectly hilarious on his own merit. The character is extremely well-written and well-performed in general. So WHY does he need to be blind? It makes ZERO sense to have a blind tech guy, and besides, loss of sight is approximately the lamest injured-in-action injury ever. If Auggie *had* to be disabled in some way (and that is definitely questionable), couldn't he have at least lost a leg or something?
I found some genuine pleasures in the show too. Mostly related to casting. All the actors previously mentioned in this post are excellent. In addition there is Sendhil Ramamurthy to look forward to in coming episodes. Also Eric Lively (Conrad), who is creepy and caddish (which is cool) and kind of a douche (which is even better. And I'm especially delighted that this show is finally giving Anne Dudek a much-deserved starring role, even if it does has to be as the Token Clueless Family Member. Plus, guest appearance by the always lovely Emmanuelle Vaugier, who presumably is actually involved in the plot!
All things considered, I'd classify Covert Affairs as Pretty Good. It is far from being brilliant (room to grow?) and it definitely has its flaws (quirky charms?), but I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone from watching. I could even be pushed into recommending it if the next few episodes end up being better.
(This review, plus some quotes and slightly more irreverence, is also posted on my blog at http://meltedbrain.wordpress.com.)