In the US: Sundays, 9/8c, TNT
There’s been a decades-long quest in the US to create ‘the American James Bond’. This is somewhat ironic, since the first ever adaptation of a James Bond book was the 1954 US TV series Climax! Mystery Theater‘s Casino Royale, starring Barry Nelson as ‘Jimmy Bond’. (Let’s twopher this one and call it this week’s Wednesday Play… on Tuesday)
But ever since Bond hit it big at the movie box office, there have been attempts to create an equally lucrative and iconic US James Bond, such as Napoleon Solo in The Man From UNCLE, whom they even asked Ian Fleming to help develop, although all he ended up giving them was the name. However, so far, the US has had very little success, although many people argue that the Bourne series is the American equivalent of the Bond movies.
It’s also ironic, because why would you want to create an American James Bond? He’s quintessentially British. And I don’t mean suave, sophisticated, good with women, etc – we’re really not any of those.
No, James Bond’s attitudes to his job are quintessentially British – there’s no real patriotism, no great love of country, no belief in the fundamental awesomeness of the British political system. To Bond, Britain isn’t best and there is no ‘British exceptionalism’. Instead, he is a blunt tool who risks all for Queen and country, because it’s a job and the alternative to the status quo would probably just be even worse than it already is. That’s peak British, that is.
So Agent X is probably the first TV series or movie that really offers a truly American version of James Bond. Created by William Blake Herron, who co-wrote The Bourne Identity, it stars Sharon Stone as the first female vice-president of the United States. On her inaugration night, her strong grasp of Latin and Masonic symbols enables her to discover the true reason the vice president has bugger all constitutional duties – there’s a secret article in the original US constitution that gives her the power in times of national emergency to command a nameless secret agent to do whatever it takes to protect the country from enemies, foreign and domestic. Agent X is that man, a self-sacrificing, small town, everyman patriot, foresaking any kind of personal life to defend the United States and her Constitution, all for no reward.
That’s peak American, that is.
Shame that although it’s a step in the right direction, it’s still rubbish. Even worse than the worst Roger Moore James Bond movie you can think of. Maybe not the worst Pierce Brosnan movie, though.
Here’s a 13-minute trailer. I kid you not.
In times of extreme crisis, when traditional law and government aren’t in a position to help, there is an unseen hand that works to protect this country and its citizens from all manner of threats by any means necessary. Hidden from the view of the public — and even from the President — there is a top secret agent who is trained and ready to serve, deployed only at the careful discretion of the Vice President. This is Agent X. Jeff Hephner (Interstellar, Chicago Fire), Sharon Stone (Casino) and Gerald McRaney star in the new series coming this November to TNT.
Is it any good?
Nah. It’s total rubbish. Boring, cheap-looking and stupid.
In fact, the Bond analogies are probably misleading. The show certainly wants to be American small-screen Bond, with its unstoppable, extra-legal secret agent who can speak multiple languages and who’s willing to fight tight-thighed women in their underwear. But the show feels a lot more like TNT’s The Librarians in tone, and the production values are more on a par with syndicated TV shows of the 80s and 90s.
The show has many problems. Stone, for whom this is her first regular TV role, was famously once asked in the early 90s to be a ‘Bond girl’. “No, but I’ll be Jane Bond,” was her reply. And frankly, that’s what they should have done here. She may be in her 50s now, but she’s still Sharon Stone and I would happily watch her secret agent her way around the world, even on a TNT budget. Hell, I’d watch her just sit there and read out a phone book.
Instead, they’ve got her stuck in a Smallville-grade secret control room in a poorly-made basement set, emoting with Major Dad/Simon & Simon‘s Gerald McRaney while the two of them watch Jeff Hephner on some monitor screens, trying to James Bond in her place.
You know Jeff Hephner, right? He was in Hellcats and he was going to be the star of The Playboy Club until he was replaced with Eddie Cibrian. That’s right – he was actually deemed even less charismatic than Eddie Cibrian.
Still, that’s probably about right, since Hephner is a total charisma vacuum and pretty ordinary looking, rather than a handsome hunk of man meat. In a sense, a good choice for a secret agent you want to disappear into the shadows, Jason Bourne-style, but terrible if you’re trying to do Bond. Compelling he is not – Stone’s glasses have more charisma than Hephner and I’m pretty sure there are 2,000 actors in Hollywood right now who are better at martial arts, stunt sequences, et al.
Agent X is about right.
Beyond that, it’s largely all cruft of the first order. The plots range from ordinary to offensive (Muslim terrorists, nuclear missiles being sold to the highest bidder, rescue the screaming, kidnapped daughter of an important offical). There’s a tiresome attempt to create some kind of ongoing romantic/sexual “bad girl with a heart of gold” relationship with underwear fight woman Olga Ford (The Vampire Diaries), which would work if Hephner were 10 years younger, several times more attractive and had a personality, but instead it fails hopelessly.
The redeeming features of the show are Stone and McRaney. As we’ve (re)discovered recently with The Player and Blindspot, there’s many an action show that would benefit from not taking itself too seriously. While Hephner’s trying to do something ‘light’ and failing, Stone and McRaney know what bobbins the show is and are yucking it up. Even though Stone is criminally underused in terms of action, she does get to go great guns with the comedy. Meanwhile, McRaney appears to be doing his best to relive his Simon & Simon days, going undercover in a variety of comedic guises.
Unfortunately, with an action show, even when there is some fun, there still needs to be action, an element of tension, some general desire not to see the hero get killed, etc, and Agent X is lacking in all these departments. It’s formulaic tedium that makes National Treasure look like Casino Royale. The one with Daniel Craig, that is.