November 9, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Agent X”


AGENT X:  Sunday 9PM on TNT – Change the Channel

Remember a couple of months ago when The Player started on NBC, and the criticism was that it was the kind of mindless action show that had once made the term “basic cable” a perjorative?  Well, TNT’s new AGENT X is a throwback to those days on cable, the latest in what’s quickly become a dismal autumn for the network, after the ruinous Public Morals and the failing reboot of Legends.

Agent X was created by William Blake Herron, whose main accomplishment until now was being one of the screenwriters of The Bourne Identity (a very early draft, to judge from his present work).  It has an idiotic premise, although that alone hasn’t stopped plenty of enjoyable shows in the past.  (Banshee, just to name one)  In this case, the idea is that there’s a secret clause of the US Constitution that empowers the Vice-President to have an intelligence force of exactly one agent, to be used in the Veep’s entirely unfettered discretion when crises hit, away from the scrutiny of the FBI, CIA, NSA and even of the President.  The country’s brand-new VP is Natalie Maccabee (Sharon Stone), and her current Agent X is John Case (Jeff Hephner, once of Boss); she learns her secret powers on Inauguration Night, when she randomly discovers that a key to the Vice Presidential residence also opens a Batcave-like sliding door beside her fireplace.  Although the Constitution doesn’t say anything about it, she also has an Alfred-like butler/second-in-command, Malcolm Miller (Gerald McRaney, cashing a paycheck after recent superb work on shows like House of Cards and Longmire).

All that may sound like Stone is the star, and she gets first billing as well as an Executive Producer title, but in fact she has a relatively small role.  The show really follows Case, as he conducts entirely generic lone-wolf adventures around the globe.  The first two episodes, written by Herron and directed by Peter O’Fallon, both pair Case with a Russian contortionist/spy (Olga Fonda, who gives the hours the only personality they’ve got).  In the first hour, he captured her, resulting in the kidnapping of the Director of the FBI as hostage for her release, and in the second, they teamed up to find an abducted nuclear physicist.  In both cases, the dialogue was braindead, the characters and performances were rudimentary and the action was small-scale, even though the show itself can’t be entirely cheap with Stone, McRaney, and Jamey Sheridan (as the FBI Director) in the regular cast, and the pricey O’Fallon as a producer/director on staff.

It’s not just that Agent X is bad, although it certainly is, but that it completely lacks ambition and imagination.  It doesn’t even deserve the designation of “B-movie”–it’s more like the picture that would be on the back-half of a double-bill led by a B-movie.  Eventually, one imagines, something will be made of the mysterious death of the Veep’s husband in an apparent accident, and already the FBI Director is on the trail of the mysterious agent who rescued his daughter, but none of it seems remotely worth caring about.

Sunday 9PM is the most competitive timeslot of the week for scripted cable, although perhaps TNT is seeking the audience for whom The Walking Dead is too intellectually demanding.  Agent X may get a decent lead-in from The Librarians, but it’s a dumb show that sets its network back even as its traditional main competitor USA is hoping to use Mr. Robot as a springboard to move forward.  Branding is everything for networks these days, and Agent X seems intended for viewers who have trouble getting that far in the alphabet.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."