June 25, 2014

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Covert Affairs”



Last season, Season 4 of USA’s COVERT AFFAIRS took a turn for the dark, with mixed results.  It was a relief to see CIA agent Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) finally act like an adult instead of a gawky if gifted trainee, but there were problems with tone and especially with plotting, which needed to hit a higher standard once the show was no longer just spy fun and games.

Last night’s Season 5 premiere, written by series creators Matt Corman and Chris Ord (and directed by Felix Alcala), did a fair job of setting things up for another try.  It turned out that while it had seemed at the end of last season that Annie, her renegade mission to eliminate arch-villain Henry Wilcox completed, was on the way back home from Hong Kong, in fact she dropped entirely off the grid for 4 months, and so far neither viewers nor her colleagues know where she went or why.  Along the way, however, she seemed to have acquired a condition affecting her breathing, which may be physical or psychological, but is serious enough for her to be seeing a doctor under a fake name.  All of this will presumably be dealt with as the season rolls on.

In the meantime, Corman and Ord wasted no time in breaking up Annie and Auggie (Christopher Gorham), her agency handler and buddy, as a romantic couple, a good idea (for as long as it lasts), since neither the characters nor the actors were really meshing once they were made into more than pals.  The show also returned Joan Campbell (Kari Matchett) from her maternity leave, only to discover that last season’s addition Calder Michaels (Hill Harper) was holding on–at least on an interim basis–to the promotion she’d wanted.  Joan’s husband Arthur (Peter Gallagher), who had left the Agency last season, took a job with a private security firm run by Ryan McQuade (new regular Nic Bishop).

McQuade and his company will no doubt be key to the espionage plot introduced in the season premiere (and the dashing McQuade himself a potential romantic interest for Annie, having piloted his private jet to meet her and ask her out to dinner), although it’s too soon to tell whether for good or ill.  During the episode, someone with inside knowledge of the CIA’s Chicago operations bombed its deep cover office there, killing an old friend of Auggie’s in the process, and the trail starts with Borz Altan, a Russian Muslim who’s a former McQuade employee.

Early seasons of Covert Affairs relied on hopscotching glamorous locations (some the actual places, others skillfully simulated by the show’s strong production team) along with Perabo’s charm to keep things in the air, but now that the series is getting serious, its stories need to hang together better than last year’s Wilcox saga did.  Perabo is game for the challenge, and has done a solid job of turning Annie into a believably experienced field agent; whether the writers can do the same is something we’ll find out over the course of this summer.

The clock may well be ticking on Covert Affairs.  Last night’s premiere ratings were the show’s lowest yet at 0.4 in 18-49s, and although USA isn’t exactly swimming in hit shows at the moment, it’s hard to believe the network will tolerate numbers that get any lower than that.  5 seasons is a good run, but Covert Affairs will have to prove it can step up if it wants to stay on the air any longer.

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."