In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired
Ever since James Bond spotted Ursula Andress rising out shimmering Caribbean waters – and left her shaken as well as stirred – the spy genre has been associated with ‘sexy fun times’, as it is officially described. Lots of jetting around to foreign locations and lots of shagging, interspersed with the occasional murder. Sexy fun times.
Of course, once people cottoned on to the idea that women weren’t mere disposable objects, even the Bond movies had to change and try to make their female characters closer to equals.
One of the perennial solutions to this dilemma has been to make the female lead a spy as well. Think The Spy Who Loved Me‘s KGB agent Barbara Bach who knew how to drive Bond’s submersible Lotus Esprit because she’d already stolen the plans and was as liable to kill him as be seduced by him.
The question is how to do all this without removing the chemistry and without duplicating skills, making one of the leads a second-fiddle in the storyline. Here, Whiskey Cavalier actually has a good idea about how to do it – make them work for somewhat morally different services with different remits.
Despite being on ABC – the home of almost no good action dramas ever – and being a mid-season replacement (usually a sign a show’s not good enough to duke it out with other shows in the fall schedule) and having an eminently stupid name, Whiskey Cavalier is a surprisingly decent comedy spy drama from the sexy fun times sub-genre.
It sees Scott Foley playing a crack FBI agent with a “high emotional quotient”. Well, former crack FBI agent, since his French fiancée dumped him a year ago and he’s still blubbing his eyes out to tearful tunes of an evening.
Soon, this ‘Captain America of the FBI’ is sent on a mission to Moscow to recover former NSA analyst Tyler James Williams (Everyone Hates Chris) who’s stolen a list of CIA agents. There he bumps into tough, morally ambiguous CIA spy Lauren Cohan, who wants to render Williams to a black site for interrogation and is prepared to sabotage Foley’s efforts to do it, even though they’re working for the same side. The two are soon sparring to get control of Williams using their own highly different methods.
And maybe heading towards sexy fun times.
As a spy show, Whiskey Cavalier doesn’t really stand up to much scrutiny. Everything’s basically a straight lift from The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy, with just a hint of Mr and Mrs Smith when it’s Foley against Cohan. Other than that, it’s just made up nonsense. Williams says things like “I downloaded it to a tarball. That’s like a really small micro-chip.” Oh, is it now? Fight scenes are okay, if a bit implausible. Car chases are fine. Plots are meaningless. Tradecraft is utterly absent.
We even have CDC scientists in charge of ‘weaponised Ebola’ that’s stored in a fridge, rather than a level 4 containment facility. It’s almost jaw-droppingly ignorant of reality. Have then even heard of the DHS?
But, to be honest, verisimilitude is not the point of the show, which really just wants to be funny and borrow that bit of Mr and Mrs Smith where both characters spend all their time discussing their relationship with other spies over headsets with their handlers. Here, it’s a far superior beast.
The pilot episode takes a reasonably original approach to establishing the show’s format. It’s no spoiler to say that at the end of the show, the two agents are destined to work together, but the pilot keeps their respective supporting characters separate throughout the episode until the very end. We have Cougar Town‘s Josh Hopkins as Foley’s handler (with a secret) and Ana Ortiz as a profiler (but more therapist) on the FBI side, Bollywood star Vir Das as Cohan’s CIA handler and Williams ends up joining them, too. That’s quite a fresh way of introducing everyone, at least.
The comedy’s also enjoyable, not because of one-liners but because of the relationships between the characters. Ortiz is pleasingly sunny and a gushing fangirl of Cohan, while Hopkins and Foley have an entertaining relationship. Williams manages to be decently withering and world-weary, too. Das, we’ve not heard much of from yet, but again, it’s early days.
The show may be called Whiskey Cavalier – Foley’s character is called Will Chase, itself a throwback to daft 60s spy names like Napoleon Solo – but it nevertheless manages to offer both male and female gazes to a relatively appreciable extent. There’s also an equitable distribution of the action, although the show wisely doesn’t make Foley a walkover in the fights against Cohan.
Most of the action concentrates on Foley and his tendency to over-empathise (particularly, Adam Adamant-style, with women), but we still get to know a little about Cohan and why she’s quite so committed to the cause of emotional shutdown-ness. Foley deploys his Scrubs and The Unit skills to do a decent job with both the drama and the comedy, while Cohan deploys the same “wounded b*tch with a heart of gold” and sometimes British accent that she used to such good effect in the early days of Supernatural. We could do with a bit more of Cohan overall, but given she’s in effect the mysterious black ops person, a lack of background at this stage is excusable.
All in all, Whiskey Cavalier is a pleasant surprise. It’s nothing marvellous, nothing exceptional. It’s certainly not James Bond.
But it’s certainly better than any of ABC’s fall debuts, at any rate. It also has a good cast and good characters, with just enough excitement and comedy to make an hour pass quickly. And yes, the show’s emotional intelligence does make you want the two leads to have sexy fun times together at some point.
I’ll be tuning in for more, I reckon.