In a pivotal moment of the Friday, April 1, premiere of CBS' "Chaos," CIA agent Rick Martinez eats a live scorpion.
Surrounded by a band of machete- and gun-wielding rebels, in the middle of a desert, he's putting them on notice that he's crazy tough. And he earns the respect of his fellow agents on this unsanctioned mission.
When actor Freddy Rodriguez ("Ugly Betty," "Six Feet Under") eats an actual scorpion (its stinger was glued into submission), the audience knows this is a crazy ride. The playful Rat Pack music, the Office of Disruptive Services and the nagging suspicion that the real CIA could be this disorganized contribute to the fun.
Rodriguez's character is an earnest, smart, diligent man.
"When my brothers were in soccer camp, I stayed home and studied Arabic," he says, explaining his lifelong dream to become an operative.
On his first day, his department is eliminated. He can't take no for an answer, and he's so perfect for the job that his boss, H.J. Higgins (Kurtwood Smith, "That '70s Show"), appoints him to Clandestine Administration and Oversight Services (CHAOS).
It's a division of spies spying on spies, and Martinez becomes the newbie among a smart-aleck trio. Michael Dorset (Eric Close, "Without a Trace"), a psychologist-turned-operative, is the boss. Billy Collins (James Murray) is a Scot, decommissioned from the British Secret Service. Casey Malick (Tim Blake Nelson) looks like a mild-mannered accountant but is insanely tough and is considered the "human weapon."
"It's like 'The Four Musketeers' sprinkled with a little 'Get Smart' sprinkled with a little bit of 'M*A*S*H' with a little bit of Coen brothers-esque humor, maybe," Rodriguez says. "I can't compare it to anything on TV. Put all of that in a blender, and you might come up with 'Chaos.' "
Plus, it all feels right, he adds. Rodriguez knew producer and director Brett Ratner for 16 years. Creator Tom Spezialy wrote Martinez for him. Spezialy wants to show that CIA agents take wild risks, often living by their wits.
"I read that there is something like 3 million people with top-secret clearance in this country," Spezialy says at a press conference. "So I immediately go, 'Well, that means 6 (million) because of husbands and wives and 9 (million) because of hairdressers. So you feel like there are no secrets in this country, just confusion and bureaucracy."
"Chaos" captures that.
"It is the story of four rogue CIA operatives forced to overcome the agency's CIA gridlock in an effort to keep the world safe," Ratner says.
"Chaos" is shot in Vancouver, which boasts the ocean and mountains. Such variety means different episodes could be set in different countries, Ratner says.
Vancouver's natural beauty makes this gig that much more attractive, says Close, an outdoorsman. He and Murray fish north of Vancouver, and Close runs through the city daily.
As a veteran of long-running shows, he has a good feeling about "Chaos."
"CBS has done so well with a certain style of show for the last decade," Close says, citing the "CSI" and "NCIS" franchises and his own "Without a Trace." "What they are trying to do is find a way to keep the humor in our show and use a formula that does very well for them."
CBS' madcap 'Chaos' pits spy versus spy
"Chaos" premieres Friday on CBS.