Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Ranking the 5 Best Editing Oscar Nominees Ranking the 5 Best Editing Oscar Nominees Kristen Stewart Is First American Actress Nominated for César Awards in 30 Years; 'Saint Laurent' Leads with Ten Kristen Stewart Is First American Actress Nominated for César Awards in 30 Years; 'Saint Laurent' Leads with Ten How They Sustained the Times Square Momentum in 'Birdman' VIDEO How They Sustained the Times Square Momentum in 'Birdman' VIDEO 6 Things to Know About Sexy Sundance Breakout 'Diary of a Teenage Girl,' Part of Sundance's Women's New Wave 6 Things to Know About Sexy Sundance Breakout 'Diary of a Teenage Girl,' Part of Sundance's Women's New Wave Sundance Raves About Ewan McGregor as Jesus and the Devil in 'Last Days in the Desert' Sundance Raves About Ewan McGregor as Jesus and the Devil in 'Last Days in the Desert' Oscar Loves Diseases and Disorders: 6 Contenders and the Hard Truths They Don't (or Do) Ignore Oscar Loves Diseases and Disorders: 6 Contenders and the Hard Truths They Don't (or Do) Ignore Watch: Jason Segel on Playing David Foster Wallace in Sundance's 'End of the Tour' (Exclusive Interview) Watch: Jason Segel on Playing David Foster Wallace in Sundance's 'End of the Tour' (Exclusive Interview) Filmmakers, Give Us Your Numbers! Sundance and Cinereach Unveil The Transparency Project Filmmakers, Give Us Your Numbers! Sundance and Cinereach Unveil The Transparency Project Sundance Market Explodes with 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' and 'Diary of a Teenage Girl' Sundance Market Explodes with 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' and 'Diary of a Teenage Girl' Screen Actors Guild Awards: 'Birdman' Takes Ensemble, Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne Win Leads Screen Actors Guild Awards: 'Birdman' Takes Ensemble, Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne Win Leads Top Ten Takeaways: Polarizing 'American Sniper' Speeds Past $200 Million; Lopez Trounces Depp Top Ten Takeaways: Polarizing 'American Sniper' Speeds Past $200 Million; Lopez Trounces Depp Arthouse Audit: Panic Time? 'Mommy,' 'Red Army,' 'Black Sea,' 'Cake,' 'Duke of Burgundy' All Disappoint Arthouse Audit: Panic Time? 'Mommy,' 'Red Army,' 'Black Sea,' 'Cake,' 'Duke of Burgundy' All Disappoint 2015 PGA Winners: 'Birdman' Steals 'Boyhood''s Awards Season Thunder 2015 PGA Winners: 'Birdman' Steals 'Boyhood''s Awards Season Thunder Watch: Nicole Kidman Talks 'Strangerland' at Sundance (Exclusive Video Interview) Watch: Nicole Kidman Talks 'Strangerland' at Sundance (Exclusive Video Interview) Sundance Acquisitions Market Heats Up with 'The Bronze' and 
'The Witch' Sundance Acquisitions Market Heats Up with 'The Bronze' and 'The Witch' Sundance: 5 Things to Expect From Alex Gibney's Damning Scientology Doc 'Going Clear' Sundance: 5 Things to Expect From Alex Gibney's Damning Scientology Doc 'Going Clear' Watch: Meet the Women of 'Birdman' (Exclusive 4-Minute Featurette) Watch: Meet the Women of 'Birdman' (Exclusive 4-Minute Featurette) Watch: Hitchcock's Thwarted Holocaust Documentary Comes to HBO Watch: Hitchcock's Thwarted Holocaust Documentary Comes to HBO Best Actor Oscar Predictions 2015 UPDATED Best Actor Oscar Predictions 2015 UPDATED Oscar Predictions 2015 Oscar Predictions 2015

Brand New Spy and Cult Classic Alias Play Spy Game--by Different Rules

Photo of Matt Brennan By Matt Brennan | Thompson on Hollywood! October 31, 2011 at 3:45AM

In this week’s “Now and Then” column, Matt Brennan takes a look at two players in the small-screen spy game, the new Sky 1/Hulu comedy Spy and J.J. Abrams breakout cult hit, Alias.
0

In this week’s “Now and Then” column, Matt Brennan takes a look at two players in the small-screen spy game, the new Sky 1/Hulu comedy Spy and J.J. Abrams breakout cult hit, Alias.

Espionage parody is a tricky thing. On the face of it, spy thrillers are ripe for satire: from the dangerous gadgetry to the cloak-and-dagger routine, there’s something a tad ridiculous about secret agents. Even the James Bond films, for better or worse, have long been in on the joke, from Q’s exasperated bumbling to Bond’s unique brand of blatant sexual puns.
 
Rarely, though, do the laughs fly. A venerable subgenre stretching from Johnny English to Austin Powers, spy parody invites more than its fair share of duds. FThat's because when the humor is played with any more than a sly wink, what’s clever quickly becomes grating: parody turns into paralysis. The same lesson applies to the disappointing new series Spy, now available Fridays exclusively on Hulu.com: the laugh lines might as well be accompanied by a brass band.
 
Spy stars Darren Boyd (pictured) as Tim, a blundering single father, computer-store clerk and avid puzzle-solver who accidentally sits for, and aces, a British intelligence service entry exam. His travails as an inept spy range from the mundane — a recurring gag about the faulty wiring in his apartment — to the surreal — something about a training mission, a homeless illegal immigrant from Bulgaria, and a trashy talk show.
 
Spy, as this description suggests, is really just a loose accumulation of set pieces ginned up for absurdist laughs that never arrive, with the attendant self-conscious “kookiness.” It relies on some of same outlandish personality tics that have made Modern Family a hit, but the precocious kid (newcomer Jude Wright, as the most miserable little brat imaginable) and obsessive family social worker (Rosie Cavaliero), who might be funny in a domestic sitcom, seem forced here. Straining this hard never makes for good comedy, and after three preview episodes I developed the gnawing desire to see Tim ditch the menagerie of lunatics in his orbit and go for something subtler. Funny, I feel the same way about Spy.
 
Where the series does hit on a genuine comedic moment, it’s usually brief and witty, enough to catch you off guard. In the office of Tim’s handler, for example, the camera catches a glimpse of a portrait of Judi Dench. A wry riff on her role as M in the Bond films, it has the same sense of being on nodding terms with the genre as J.J. Abrams’ rollicking Alias. Starring Jennifer Garner (in a brilliant star turn) as double agent Sydney Bristow, it makes its allusions gently, from the jet set locales to the unapologetic way Sydney uses innuendo to complete the task at hand. Where Bond had sports cars, she has disguises — part of the great fun of any episode of Alias is watching Garner inhabit not one role but many, from pink-haired rebel to Southern belle.
 
Leavened by such warm humor, Alias gets away with some of its more convoluted aspects, like the conspiracy theory involving a Da Vinci-esque Renaissance genius. This may have more to do with Garner’s effortless blend of ferocity and earnestness than the show’s inherent quality, but in the meantime I’m happy to follow her impish spy without much concern for ripped-from-the-headlines realism: when she walks back into SD-6 with the big take from a rogue mission in the series pilot, even the power of her stride is compelling. Far more than Spy, which feels tired even as it’s still hot off the press, Alias remains fresh, from the youthful electro-pop theme (composed by Abrams himself) to the unabashed thrills of its perpetual cliffhangers. (The moodier, almost punk sensibility that has revitalized the Bond franchise owes much to the Alias playbook.) In other words, it’s a show confident enough to sail on with a wink and a nod, the kind of flirtation that doesn’t have to work too hard for your attention, because it already has it.

[Spy photo and trailer courtesy of Sky 1 HD/Hulu; Alias photo and season 4 promo courtesy of ABC.]

This article is related to: Directors, Franchises, Genres, Headliners, Web/Tech, Video, Reviews, TV, Now and Then, J.J. Abrams, Thriller, comedy, Action, Classics, Hulu, Trailers


E-Mail Updates