November 4, 2010

News: UNDERCOVERS Canceled

In news that was surprising to very few, NBC decided to cancel its new spy show Undercovers due to low ratings. Anyone who paid attentions to the show's numbers knew that this day was coming, but that doesn't take away the sting felt by fans.

For the record, I wasn't technically a fan of Undercovers since I stopped watching it after the third or fourth episode mostly because the stories started to bore me. The show's slow start was still disappointing to me because it was the one new show I was really excited about. After the first couple of weeks it just couldn't deliver the goods like say Nikita could.

It's probably not fair comparing Undercovers to Nikita, but it's hard not to since they're both rookie spy shows. The biggest difference was the latter was just more interesting. Right off the bat, Nikita established its story, world, and mythology so the viewer could figure out what the series was going to be about, and the same really couldn't be said about Undercovers.

The basic premise of Undercovers was there during the pilot, two retired spies who are married and are reactivated, but we didn't learn anything besides that concept for the first couple of episodes and things started to get stale fast. From the start, Undercovers felt like it was nothing more than a mission of the week show, which would have been fine if other aspects were interesting. Unfortunately, they weren't. There were glimpses at a greater story, but the show took too long to really capitalize on them.

As a viewer, this lack of an overarching plot was the show's major weakness. Again, there were hints that there was more to these characters than met the eye, but after four episodes we still had no idea what was really going on. I just started to lose interest because there was nothing for me to latch on to. I didn't need Rambaldi, the Others, or the Pattern type stories to drive Undercovers, but I needed something more than watching pretty people on spy missions week in and week out. To be honest, I think the lack of an Abrams level mythos was what hurt the show.

NBC and the show hung their hats on J.J. Abrams' name, and they felt that would be enough to make Undercovers a hit, but that strategy was a double-edged sword. Some casual viewers may have been turned off by the idea of another Abrams show because of the complicated plots of Alias, LOST, and Fringe. Others, may have started watching Undercovers expecting the same type of intrigue but weren't given a pay off. Either way, mainly focusing on a creator who probably had minimal involvement in the day to day operations was not the right approach to selling this show.

It's easy to point at a weak story or bad publicity as reasons for the show's failure, but it should also be commended for taking risks. When Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw were casted as the Blooms, it made some headlines because a major network show placed two relative unknowns as its leads, and to top it off they were of African decent. While many praised the decision to go with these actors, many also wondered if a show that had minority leads would be successful. In the end, the show wasn't a success but I hope it's not because of the theories postulated about the Kodje and Mbatha-Raw's involvement.

Another bold move Undercovers made was using subtitles prominently during episodes. I remember being surprised by the approach while watching the episode that involved a German computer hacker, and the majority of the scenes that involved the character were actually in German. It's not a secret that many Americans refuse to go to movies with subtitles, so I doubt they were on board with a TV show that required them to read. While this tactic gave the world the Blooms lived in some validity, it's hard to keep up with a show that's being presented in a foreign language when you're trying to do other things. You really had to pay attention to Undercovers to understand what was going on, but when you did you realized nothing interesting was happening.

When it's all said and done, I don't think we'll really know why Undercovers didn't work just that it didn't. It's still a shame that the show didn't catch up because I still feel like there was a lot of potential there, but the show runners really didn't strike while the iron was hot, and in this new world of instant gratification and multiple options, you need to establish yourself quickly. Undercovers didn't do that, so here we are.


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