February 5, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Allegiance”


ALLEGIANCE:  Thursday 10PM on NBC – If Nothing Else is On…

ALLEGIANCE is what happens when broadcast network executives watch cable.  The story of long-term, deep-cover Russian agents is clearly, shall we say “strongly influenced” by FX’s The Americans, even if the specifics of the storyline aren’t identical.  But broadcast networks desperately need “big tent” programming that draw as many eyeballs as possible, because virtually all their income comes from advertisers who pay per eyeball (or pair thereof).  That means that the moral and narrative complexity of The Americans has no place on NBC, and what’s left is a dopey companion piece for The Blacklist, itself newly arrived on Thursdays.

Alligiance, created by George Nolfi, who also directed the pilot (his credits include work on the screenplays for The Bourne Ultimatum and The Adjustment Bureau, the latter of which he directed) actually combines the Americans narrative with one of the most widespread TV procedural tropes:  the inspired but borderline-Aspergers investigator with a decisive lack of social skills.  Here that’s Alex O’Connor (Gavin Stenhouse), a new CIA analyst who bluntly shows up everyone in his path.  As brilliant as Alex is, though, it escaped his notice that throughout his entire life, his parents Katya and Mark (Hope Davis and Scott Cohen), not to mention his sister Natalie (Margarita Levieva), have been Russian spies.

It’s rather difficult to fit those two concepts together, so Nolfi’s plot contrives a way around it by having the O’Connors, unlike the Americans couple, exist as dormant agents, who wouldn’t have done much over the decades to draw Alex’s notice.  With his ascent in the CIA, his family is activated, and given the task of recruiting him to the Russki side for assistance in a dire plot that hasn’t yet been disclosed. (Another distinction from The Americans is that Allegiance is set in the present day.)  We’re presumably going to get plenty of cat and mouse machinations between Alex and the rest of his family, and between all of them and the (ruthless, it need hardly be said) Russian functionaries.

Dumb action-filled intrigue certainly hasn’t hurt The Blacklist.  What Allegiance lacks, however, is anything remotely like the charisma of James Spader.  Hope Davis is a first-rate actress, but that’s not the kind of acting she does, and Stenhouse provides minimal leading man qualities in the pilot.  Without the nuance and compelling storytelling of The Americans, or acting on a par with what Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys do each week, Allegiance isn’t dull, but its vodka is watered down.

Allegiance will face off with the powerhouse How to Get Away With Murder for its first several weeks, and will have to hold onto its Blacklist lead-in very tightly.  In March, Murder finishes its season (due to Viola Davis’s contract) and Allegiance may have an opportunity against American Crime, which ironically seems as though it will be one of the more cable-like shows on broadcast TV.  A month, though, is a long time for TV series if not for sleeper spies.  By then, Allegiance‘s secrets may have gone stale.

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."