Case Study 28: Agent X–“Pilot”

Original Airdate: November 8th, 2015 on TNT

Based on how often I saw it in press accounts, it would seem that Agent X billed itself to the media as “National Treasure meets The Bourne Identity.” It nails the Treasure tone but drifts rather far afield of the Bourne approach, which makes a spy fantasy seem realistic and plausible. It’s almost as if those two things, while superficially similar, should not have been combined. Agent also bears the inauspicious distinction of being the first show covered on this blog which premiered, had its entire run and was cancelled during the course of Oryx & Cake Boss’ four month existence. Let’s kick it while it’s down!

Strengths

  • Action-oriented thrills. Admittedly, Agent does cram most of this into the cold open and then gets steadily worse as the hour progresses, but there’s derring-do, close combat in elevators, gunplay, rooftop brawls, suspenseful battles atop precarious scaffolding and so forth. It’s good that Agent can supply these things, because otherwise it would have no reason to exist and we’d be in Olsen Twins territory.

Weaknesses

  • Ludicrous. I’d like to believe that Agent was holding out for camp value, but it’s hard to have campy fun while also embracing a solemn duty to protect the innocent American public from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Agent quotes this section of the Constitution, as well it should—the plot hinges on a heretofore unknown secret clause in Article Two wherein the Vice President oversees a high-powered field agent fighting against whatever trolls lurk under the bridges of democracy this week. This very silly premise infects otherwise solid areas of the show as well. In the first half hour, people nearly have their necks broken by someone twisting their legs around them in two separate scenes. The second instance is thanks to legally distinct Black Widow Olga Petrovka (Olga Fonda, Real Steel.) You see, Olga is a former circus contortionist (sounds legit) and when the FBI captures and interrogates her, for some reason they don’t use leg irons—on the famed contortionist—and soon she’s flipping herself over and wrapping her legs around her interrogator. Straight out of the pages of Ludlum, I tells ya!
  • Sharon Stone. Agent introduces us to our first female Vice President. Natalie Maccabee (Stone, Basic Instinct) is an improvement on Sarah Palin but she’s a damn sight worse than Selina Meyer. She’s even worse than that grouchy Christian lady from Scandal. The problem here might be the material (I’m not sure anyone could make much hay of the direction to “have a dignified reaction to the discovery of a secret shrine to Democracy underneath the Vice President’s House”) but most of the looks that cross Stone’s face seem to suggest despair at the tattered remains of her career and not noble perseverance in the face of the FBI director’s daughter being—oh, I won’t even summarize this awful bullshit. Really, I should applaud Stone for not having some kind of personal crisis over her decision to co-produce this turd. I’d be truly surprised if at some point in 2015 she didn’t make a rueful remark about how she used to work with Scorsese.
  • Reactionary. Look, I realize that it was a near inevitability that an action/espionage thriller would presuppose a government that unquestioningly takes it upon itself to act as an exceptionalist policeman to the world, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be disappointed. You see, Olga’s boss is international supercriminal Carmen SandieNicolas Volker (Andrew Howard, Limitless.) Somehow, Volker is responsible for a nuclear accident in France, increased guerilla activity in Nigeria and the suicide of the Argentinian Prime Minister, all of which is America’s problem due to reasons. And how can America solve that problem? Only through extrajudicial means, of course! At least the eponymous Agent John Case (Jeff Hephner, Boss) refrains from torturing anyone, KEIFER.

Motivation: Knowledge, as Case is frantically trying to discover the location of the FBI director’s kidnapped daughter. Dammit TNT, you tricked me into plot summary.

Final Episode Judgment: 3/10. Agent X is perfect for the person in your life who has already watched every episode of 24 and also every action movie made in the last twenty years.

NEXT TIME: I cannot continue to ignore my duty to write about an endless stream of children’s superhero cartoons, so look forward to a review of the 1990s Iron Man animated series!

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Case Study 28: Agent X–“Pilot”