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"Covert Affairs" Lady Stardust (2012)

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3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Season 3: The change in direction has potential but doesn't totally work here, making for an odd season (v mild suggestive spoilers)

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
30 December 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The second season of this show was the one that sort of won me over because it came back with more confidence, trimmed the fat, looked better, moved better, had better plots and delivered some light entertainment while still having a bit of tension and thrill to them. As a result of this I came back to the third season looking for at least that the show hold the standard. The show continues the trend of removing clutter and several main characters are cleared out one way or the other, at least one of whom is the start of a thread that will more or less run the whole season. This is the first big change that is noticeable because, while the previous season had some general threads, it did tend to deliver standalone episodes working to formula – a formula which it must be said has been the reason it has got and kept viewers.

Now, for me I was not upset by this change to approach and I have no preconceptions about what the show does – all I need is for it to work well. Unfortunately in this season it mostly doesn't. The tone of the show is suddenly trying to be darker and more serious with lots of indications that it is going for more of a "24" air. Problem is that it is rushing to do this and it is never comfortable in this new style. The characters, the theme music, the previous path of the show all clatter together badly due to the sudden change in direction and as hard as the season works to get everything going the same way at speed, it never totally manages it. It isn't suddenly "bad" though and a lot of it is actually pretty decent in a superficial and fleeting way, but it cannot ever keep the consistency to the delivery. The plots aspire to more than they actually are able to deliver as well; they have plenty of twists, betrayal and loss but it never feels as real as it should, have the impact it should nor the pace that it should.

The cast are part of the problem with this sudden change and not all of those who signed up to a rather light spy caper two years ago are able to step up their game to be something else here. Much to my surprise Perabo isn't one of them, although n some ways she is not helped by the production itself. She delivers a darker character pretty well and is earnest when required – she isn't helped by some weaker writing nor by the costume department changing her outfit so often that it constantly reminds us of what this show is (light entertainment with beautiful people in beautiful clothes) rather than keeping our focus on her as a person. The expansion of Fehr's role is good as he has presence but again his perfect stubble etc distract from the show apparently trying to be more serious and grown-up. Gorham is the main one struggling; he isn't terrible but he has limited range and only ever looks happy when flirting with his shirt off. Matchett and Gallagher are both rushed into the serious material, including some character development which is just thrown on them without much notice or support and they do OK but not great – smarter and slicker writing could have done them loads of favors. Itzin hangs in the background constantly reminding us of 24 as if we needed more help – hopefully the next season can make better use of him. To top it off, Clarke adds to the 24 effect by playing Lena (as opposed to Nina) and doing just what you expect her to do and thus serves as a constant reminder of how much better 24 was as a show. Dudek finally gets put out of her misery and frees up the show a bit. As with season 2, I was very impressed by the selection of locations and the sheer number of external shots they have in each episode. It adds a lot to the show to have these because it gives it a real good natural energy and sense of place – it must be well planned to minimize costs but it is well worth it and it remains one of the things that impress me most about the show.

Season 3 doesn't totally cut it though. I'm not sure why they decided to go for such a big change of tone and direction but I guess they deserve credit for trying. Problem is that all the characters, stories, relationships etc have 2 seasons of being a lot lighter and a lot simpler, so not everything can be changed well and too much of the show is not as smart or as serious as it wants to be. It has potential and I'll be back to see what they can do with it, but there is a lot of work to be done in the writing to make the show as a whole fit into this new direction.

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