LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Although it’s refreshing to see J.J. Abrams return to the same milieu of his “Alias” days, the romantic confection “Undercovers” is primetime comfort food that hopscotches the globe as married Malibu caterers (Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) reluctantly dive back into the spy game they turned their backs on five years before.
Combining elements familiar from “Hart to Hart,” “Scarecrow and Mrs. King” and, most of all, “Alias,” the series breaks no new ground creatively, opting for formulaic chase sequences from one exotic locale to the next and wooden banter delivered by its attractive central duo that might have been zesty and delicious had Abrams and company had the good sense to cultivate the kind of Nick and Nora Charles-derived wit that fueled “Hart to Hart” through multiple seasons.
Instead, “Undercovers” settles for deadly dull dialogue like “one more case — we’re in, we’re out, we’re done” that keeps the series and its young, sexy marrieds-under-fire trapped in its own lazy shortcomings.
In a prologue sequence that dials up the action within seconds, the series pilot alights in a ritzy Paris hotel as an American operative with a laptop full of secrets flees stock thugs across balconies, fire escapes and a rooftop that looks far removed from its luxe City of Lights setting. With seconds to spare, the agent e-mails his intel to safety before being taken into captivity.
Cut to a spacious catering kitchen where perfect Los Angeles couple Steven and Samantha Bloom prepare kosher vittles for a Chinese-Jewish wedding, aided by Samantha’s can-do sister (Mekia Cox). Offered a lucrative job by someone who purports to be a hotel executive, the Blooms instead find themselves lured back into their frenetic past lives as undercover CIA agents at the behest of stern Langley emissary Carlton Shaw (Gerald McRaney), who orders them to retrieve the kidnapped agent from the field before international arms dealer Alexander Slotsky gets to him first.
Aided by overzealous and instantly grating fellow operative Bill Hoyt (Ben Schwartz, from “Parks and Recreation”), who pops up at a cafe in Madrid, the Blooms have everything at their disposal, from airfare and gadgetry to chic eveningwear, to achieve their objective — indeed, it’s the series’ overly lubricated Mission: Possible quality that makes the hour whiz by almost too rapidly for its own good.
An expert at languages, laptops and hand-to-hand combat, Steven slides in and out of tight situations from Madrid to Paris to Moscow in pursuit of Agent Nash, and Samantha, aided by Mbatha-Raw’s casual resemblance to Beyonce Knowles, deploys “sexpionage” tactics to elicit sensitive data from a swarthy Spaniard’s BlackBerry at an exclusive wedding infiltrated by the Blooms — but of course! — skydiving into the festivities.
Too exhausted to make love after a busy day at the office — “We’re so overdue ... maybe tomorrow night,” bemoans Samantha during an early Malibu bedroom scene, another example of the leaden dialogue that could spell an early demise from the fall schedule — it’s obvious that field ops are what spice up the Blooms’ staid domestic lives.
Abrams and company, including Kodjoe and Mbatha-Raw, who possess chemistry but lack sufficient charm and delivery, must find some way to jump-start this misfire before it fades into obscurity, or before Abrams shifts his focus to the forthcoming mystery production “Super 8,” which hints at a more intriguing fusion of “Lost” and “Cloverfield.”