Spring 2015 Review: Allegiance

8 Apr


In the wake of the brilliant The Americans, weak facsimiles seem to become pouring onto TV. First, there was unsuccessful ABC spy miniseries The Assets, and now there’s NBC’s Allegiance. Like The Assets, Allegiance piggybacks on a great idea without really understanding what makes The Americans work, and thus delivers an inferior product. Like The Assets, Allegiance tries to get after the big picture elements of The Americans; the espionage, the CIA or FBI vs. Russian spies dynamic, the constant terror of moles and leaks everywhere. But it doesn’t get any of the depth and layers that turn The Americans from an action spy show into something so much more.

Here’s Allegiance’s pitch. Alex is a ridiculously brilliant young analyst for the CIA who gets promoted ridiculously quickly to an incredibly important case because he’s so new that Russian spies aren’t familiar with him yet. He’s assigned as part of a team to figure out whether or not a wannabe Russian defector is telling the truth or is just setting them up to send them false info(a “dangle” they call it). He, along with senior CIA and FBI members, meet with her, and corroborate her story; she’s telling the truth, and he saves the day by just being way smarter than anyone else.

Meanwhile, it turns out his mom and dad are longtime Russian spies who have been out of the game for a few years, escaping from the Russian sky agency’s clutches in exchange for some unnamed favor. His older sister is in on the game as well, and may be currently active even while the parents are retired. Their old contact pulls them back in however; the deal is off and they’re back in, or else. The need to turn their son and have him provide this crazily important info; apparently the defector is on a trail which could lead to information uncovering every Russian agent in the states. Of course, they don’t want to, and they don’t think it would work; they’re convinced that not only would their son instantly turn them in, but they’d ruin his career in addition to sending themselves to jail forever and destroying his love for his family. So, after attempting to run, and then attempting to turn themselves in, they decide to start spying on their son without him knowing, which they’re convinced will work due to his utter and complete trust for his family.

Of course, that theory is put to the test immediately at the cliffhanger ending the episode, as Alex recognizes a dead body as an old family friend of his parents. Dun dun dun.

I really said all that needs to be said in the first paragraph, but I’ll reiterate. This show feels like someone read the elements of The Americans, thought it sounded pretty good, and decided to recreate a similar version of the show. And sure, on paper, it’s got secret hidden Russian spies, cool spy gear (there’s a Faraday cage, which is legitimately awesome). But there’s none of the interesting stuff behind that premise which makes The Americans a truly great show and not just a series of cool spy maneuvers. The level of care in The Americans and not in Allegiance is discernable even with just a pilot.

Will I watch it again? No. There’s nothing worth watching here. But if you haven’t watched The Americans yet, please do.

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