[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]
Show: "Allegiance" (NBC - MIDSEASON)
The Pitch: "It's 'The Americans' without that pesky '80s stuff."
Quick Response: I think that were it not for the existence of "The Americans," I might be really excited to see more of NBC's midseason espionage drama "Allegiance." Based on an Israeli format, George Nolfi's pilot is basically, "What if we were 15 years past the events of 'The Americans' and Henry became a CIA analyst?" And that's not unjuicy material. Scott Cohen and Hope Davis anchor the story with solid performances -- Davis' on-and-off Russian accent aside -- as former KGB deep-cover operatives called back into action when their up-and-coming CIA analyst son starts getting too close to some big secrets. They're good. As their son, Gavin Stenhouse is also quite sturdy, playing an interesting variation on TV's obsession with Aspie/Sherlock Holmes-y leading men. As the analyst's sister, Margarita Levieva may have the best role of her career and not just because her childhood in Russia gives her instant credibility when speaking Russian. And there's a really good supporting cast, including Kenneth Choi, plus Campbell Scott in a role so fleeting you wonder if he merely felt he was required to cameo due to Hope Davis' presence. We have no lack of shows that get off on spycraft, but if "The Americans" and "Homeland" aren't giving you your fill, Nolfi has obviously done his research and he has lots of trivial tidbits he wants to distribute throughout a dense-but-fast-moving pilot. I'm not sure whether NBC is calling "Allegiance" a "limited series" yet, but it definitely has that feel of a finite, close-ended narrative that's being elongated to TV-length, rather than an endlessly renewable story that could run 100 episodes. You might be surprised at how long it takes for the pilot to get to certain things and you'll certainly notice the steps being taken in that elongation, like an extended suspense-building car chase in the pilot that's only there because it distracts us from more important drama for a solid 10 minutes. But that's OK, because at least the wheel-spinning isn't boring. Being vague without being obnoxiously coy, "Allegiance" seeds a number of potential mysteries that will have to be revealed as we go along and I'm at least somewhat curious how they'll be resolved. It's good actors doing familiar material with solid, grim network proficiency and I'd be more inclined to compare it to NBC's "Kidnapped" from way back in the day, rather than something newer like "Hostages," which is intended as a compliment, but maybe also with some wariness. Cable networks know how to make stories like this unfold. NBC doesn't, unless you wanna compare this to "Hannibal," which is unfair since "Hannibal" isn't really comparable to anything.
Desire To Watch Again: The spycraft/cat-and-mouse aspects of "Allegiance" aren't fresh, but they're still well-done, at least for one episode. The nagging familiarity with "The Americans" is a problem that has to be constantly fought, but I think "Allegiance" benefits from the aging-up of the young characters. This is a storyline that "The Americans" won't be able to do until Season 10, by which point it will have been long-cancelled. So this is a story "The Americans" COULD do, but it's not a straight-up piece of mimicry. I'm definitely interested in where things go from the end of the "Allegiance" pilot.
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