The comparison to J.J. Abrams’ “Alias” is both inevitable and unfair. However, the USA Network’s “Covert Affairs” is to “Alias” what Piper Perabo is to Jennifer Garner. That is to say: A pale, empty imitation. But pretty. I’ll give both “Covert Affairs” and Piper Perabo that much, and the extent to which you might enjoy it will depend on the rest of your television viewing habits this summer. If you’re comparing it to “Wipeout” or “America’s Got Talented,” it’s not a bad hour to spend. But if you’re catching up on better shows you’ve missed during the last couple of years, as I am (wrapping up “Ashes to Ashes” and “Fringe”), then the predictable, formulaic nature of “Covert Affairs” will likely feel tedious.
“Covert Affairs” is another summertime entry cranked out by the USA Network’s guilty pleasure factory. It’s shiny. It’s well lit. It has a modicum of sex appeal. And like the other shows of its ilk — “Burn Notice,” “White Collar,” and “In Plain Sight,” specifically — it takes a recognizable face and puts it into a sugary, palatable procedural formula that’s mostly self-contained, but has the barest of mythologies tying the series together.
The mythology in “Covert Affairs” is a boyfriend that abruptly and mysteriously left CIA-trainee Annie Walker after a torrid three-week affair. Soon thereafter, Annie is pulled from CIA-training and asked to take on a mission that requires her to dress as a high-end call girl. Naturally. The first mission puts her at odds with the FBI, her overbearing CIA boss, Joan Campbell (Kari Matchett), who suspects her CIA boss and husband, Arthur (Peter Gallagher) is having an affair. It also allows Annie to become confidantes with her CIA colleague, Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham), who is blind. Because why not? And because Annie’s expertise is in languages, there’s also a wise, old language professor around to provide advice (Clarke Peters — “The Wire,” “Treme” — who is seriously slumming it here).
And I probably shouldn’t neglect the fact that Annie — in combining elements of both “Fringe” and “Chuck” — also has a sister who doesn’t know that she’s a CIA Agent. That’s a secret that will probably last about half a season before the sister — Anne Dudek — is brought in to help on missions. I also suspect that the sister will put Annie in a series of blind dates throughout the course of the series, many of which will play central in the mission-of-the-week plotlines.
“Covert Affairs” isn’t a terrible show. It’s just redundant. It contains decent action sequences, the cast is blandly charming, and the mysterious boyfriend is blandly intriguing. But Piper Perabo’s wardrobe changes will probably be the highlight of the series. So what, right? It’s summer TV. It’s background noise. It’s what you watch when you’re jonesing for “Chuck” or “Burn Notice,” and you need a spy-show Whippet: a cheap, easy high that will wear off after a few seconds and leave no residual headache and very little memory of the experience.