The basic conceit of Agent X was interesting enough: it followed the story of a secret agent at the vice-president’s disposal who quietly dealt with matters of great importance, crises both foreign and domestic. This rich premise provided ample room for exploring a myriad of settings and storylines, as well as for defeating an unlimited number of adversaries. The American version of James Bond, Agent X could have worked well as a slick TV adaptation of cinema’s iconic 007. But alas, it turned out that James Bond’s American cousin was predictable to the point of boredom and was quickly and unceremoniously cancelled.
[Note: This show obituary will examine the first episode of Agent X in its entirety. Spoilers will be utilized only when absolutely necessary, but otherwise kept to a bare minimum.]
The show began, more or less, with a series of scenes featuring a handsome man in a suit. We quickly surmised this to be the eponymous Agent X, John Case (played by Jeff Hephner). Case proceeded to infiltrate a hotel and to eliminate several guards as he followed a target in quick pursuit. His target got away via a timely helicopter—surprise!—but Agent X nevertheless managed to capture one of their collaborators, a Russian spy named Olga (Olga Fonda). After the obligatory chase sequence we returned to Washington, DC and witnessed the swearing in of new Vice President of the United States, Natalie Maccabee (Sharon Stone). Once she was alone in her new official residence at Number One Observatory Circle, Maccabee quickly discovered a hidden door to an underground tunnel network, which led to a room filled with items telling the secret history of the Agent X program. This included an original U.S. constitution containing a secret ‘article 5,’ which authorized the existence of Agent X. A constitutional basis for the existence of such an agent was an interesting touch, though in some ways it changed the genre of the show from innovative spy craft to imaginary revisionist history. All in all, the found historical document fiction just felt very National Treasure, creating a jarring fantastical tone that pervaded the rest of the episode.
Not surprisingly, a crisis unfolded after the new VP met Agent X. The daughter of a US official had been kidnapped in order to pressure Olga’s release from US custody. The CIA and FBI could not get involved because the girl was being held in the Russian embassy, so who could possibly help? Well, of course, Agent X was ready to save the day, and another scene unfolded where he took out a lot of bad guys. There were some complications in the story, but nothing that couldn’t be predicted five minutes before it happened on screen. Overall the entire plot was transparent, even silly, and although there was always a chance the screenwriting would improve in the next couple of episodes, the flawed premise of this fast-paced thriller-espionage show made this unlikely. Moreover, the show’s overall simplistic structure didn’t seem to allow for any degree of moral ambiguity. In the world of Agent X there were no nuances; everyone was either good or bad, never anything in between.
Jeff Hephner played Agent X adequately enough, but he didn’t contribute anything to make the part memorable. While the script—with its mixture of clunky one liners and quips that fell flat—certainly didn’t help him reach the level of a Jason Bourne, much less a James Bond, he also didn’t exude excitement or show enough emotional depth to keep us interested. Sharon Stone as VP was a strong pick, but she likewise failed to fully inhabit her role. Her character was reduced to a lot of awkward standing around and looking confused, and while this might be appropriate given she had just learned she has a secret agent to supervise, it also didn’t allow this talented actress to demonstrate the full range of her dramatic ability. One could only hope future episodes would give Stone more screen time so her character could continue to grow, but time would show that this was not to be the case. James Earl Jones in the role of Chief Justice Caleb Thorne was another great casting choice, although we only got to see him briefly. Jones shone as a judge that understood it was sometimes necessary to go outside the normal order of law to achieve justice, but he was not even to be featured in every episode which further hampered the show’s potential.
The show’s cinematography and direction did not provide anything to make Agent X stand out. They depicted what was happening on screen fairly well, but the visual palette was generic at best. This contributed to the predictability of the show’s plot, since it was often obvious that some shots had been clearly set up to guide the audience and to foreshadow potential twists in the story.
All in all this show wasn’t actively bad. If you were the mood for some short action sequences where the good guys always won and the bad guys always seemed to lose (with some boring dialogue in-between), then this show’s was a great fix. However, if you were looking for a deep story with interesting characters, then your time would be better spent elsewhere . . . anywhere else. In the end, the only surprise in this show is that it lasted for ten episodes before it was cancelled.
Grade: C- While an interesting premise, this show fell flat and became yet another predictable action flick with a substandard script.
Rating: TV-14 Because the show was probably created by a 14 year old.
Agent X, TNT