In the space of four days, the television brings to the screen three new series with an FBI theme: “Whiskey Cavalier,” from ABC, which gets a sneak preview Sunday after the Oscars before its Wednesday premiere; “The Enemy Within,” beginning Monday on NBC; and “Gone,” from WGN America, also coming Wednesday. CBS already has Dick Wolf’s “FBI,” which has been renewed for a second season. Is it something in the zeitgeist?
None is wholly believable, but each in its own way efficiently packages suspense and action, while finding room for credible, even delicately expressed, feelings. With some regularity, a character will shout “FBI!” sometimes adding, “You’re safe now” or “Hands in the air!”
Each gives the impression that these gun-toting, code-breaking, running, jumping and typing types are good to have around, in spite of what the president says about the agency. The world is going to hell but the feds are there to put out fires before you even smell smoke. The premises will keep you awake, but the conclusions may help you sleep.
In “Gone,” Chris Noth, as FBI agent Frank Booth, runs a special task force dedicated to finding missing persons (not Missing Persons, the 1980s pop band, although you might get at least a TV movie out of that idea). There is something a little thrilling about seeing Noth, the big lug — whom we first got to know before his “Sex and the City” days in “Law & Order” — playing a straightforward good cop again. He grounds a series that (like all of the series reviewed here) can get a little nutty.
Leven Rambin plays Kick Lannigan, whom Booth rescued as a little girl from the man who had abducted her years earlier. She’s been recruited to his team for her special knowledge and military-grade self-defense skills, and as therapy for her. That her abductor, now imprisoned, is played by the well-known actor Lee Tergesen means that we will be seeing more of him, as one of those preternaturally cunning long-arc foes who bedevil a heroine through a season or more (see also: “Castle,” “Major Crimes”).
Also on their team, in a special airborne field office, is an underused Tracie Thoms, as agent Kennedy, along mostly to provide explanatory dialogue and an odd laugh line, though she is such a naturally melodic actor that she does find some soul in those scraps. Danny Pino plays agent Bishop, whose doubts about Kick will make him pretty abrasive — I wanted him to disappear through the whole first episode — before admiring cooperation inevitably sets in. Andy Mientus plays the familiar Goofball Genius Hacker (“Whiskey Cavalier” will have one of those too); Kelly Rutherford is eventually sympathetic as Kick’s mother.
“The Enemy Within” opens with a title card informing viewers, “The FBI estimates there are one hundred thousand foreign spies working within the United States today.” If I were a TV producer proceeding from that interesting statistic, I would make a show about a city of 100,000 populated entirely by foreign spies — “Spyville,” we could call it. But “The Enemy Within” creator Ken Woodruff has instead opted for a blustery, gritted-teeth thriller about an FBI agent (Morris Chestnut, the above-noted jogging cop) ordered to work with the infamous traitor and ridiculously gifted former CIA operative (Jennifer Carpenter) whose leaked intelligence led to the death of his wife. Their mission, which they can’t help but accept: to take down the super-villainous mastermind behind it all.
The series goes long on paranoia, though in the real world you may be in less danger from those reputed 100,000 foreign agents than from, like, your own failure to vote. (In none of these shows is it even suggested that the country has a president.) Diplomatically, one might say, the villains here don’t represent any named enemy, ideology or acronym, but are rather “rogue terrorists” determined to bring America to its knees. (One wild-eyed zealot, cornered, hisses, “All great empires die from within,” which does seem right.) The bad guys do evince a cultish devotion, however, to their mysterious leader, who, like Charlie of “Charlie’s Angels,” is heard but not seen, at least not in the episodes available for review.
With some regularity, a character will shout ‘FBI!’ sometimes adding, ‘You’re safe now’ or ‘Hands in the air!’
Notwithstanding an air of naturalism, it can be silly. Some scenes are staged only because of how they’ll play on camera, not because they make any sense — that is true of all these shows, to be fair — as when Patterson’s character is apprehended on the Capitol Mall by a dozen agents lurking in disguise, rather than, say, quietly in her office. One Big Shocking Twist is as visible from afar as the Washington Monument in the scene above. And Chestnut does a fair bit of what might be called grunge-rock acting, going from soft to loud in an instant, sometimes to unintended comic effect. Carpenter, by contrast, builds her character from behind a wall of impassivity. They’re generally good company, though.
Whatever is ridiculous in “Whiskey Cavalier” is easier to swallow because the whole business is a fluffy confection, topped with sprinkles, albeit one in which people are shot dead. (They are not the people you are meant to like, though they may be people you were fooled into liking.) The show is set in Europe, where the FBI does do business, you may be surprised to learn, and filmed on real European locations, some of which may be the places they are said to represent. That totally is the Eiffel Tower in the series’ elaborate opening chase scene.
You may detect a strong scent of eau de ‘Castle.’ The 12-year-old boy within the adult TV critic finds this in the show quite pleasing.
The show quickly throws Scott Foley’s FBI agent into competition and then rivalrous cahoots with Lauren Cohan’s CIA agent; they are both after the same target, an NSA analyst and Goofball Genius Hacker (Tyler James Williams) on the lam with sensitive information, making “Whiskey Cavalier” a sort of “Midnight Run” through much of the pilot. By the end of the hour, however, we have crossed into “Mission: Impossible” territory, adding Ana Ortiz as the world’s greatest profiler and Vir Das as the character whose role will be clarified in coming episodes.
Although they are equally good in a fight or a chase, Foley’s agent is squishy and sentimental (“What my file doesn’t tell you is that I believe in love,” is a thing he says), where Cohan’s is hard and practical — you may detect a strong scent of eau de “Castle.”
The 12-year-old boy within the adult TV critic finds this in the show quite pleasing. (I did watch every episode of “Castle,” to be sure.) I’m happy to overlook whatever is lacking or obvious or oversold or simplistic in its construction for the sake of the adventure, the scenery and the fun gang dynamics. (The Bowery Boys were an early model for human society, I admit.) And all shows being equal, I would rather hang with the one that sees the world as light romantic comedy, rather than as dark fearful fantasy. But that’s just me.
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)
‘The Enemy Within’
When: 10 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)
Where: WGN America
When: 6 and 9 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd