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Fall '01: "The Agency"

Whatever they're paying David Clennon to be in The Agency, it's not enough.

Clennon, plays an acidic geek wrangler who, in the episode I watched, obsesses equally over the prospect of Fidel Castro's assassination and the prospect of attending his ex-wife's funeral. He is a delight to watch.

Unfortunately, The Agency is not the David Clennon show. It is the Gil Bellows show, the Paige Turco show and the Gloria Reuben show. All three actors possess fine, inoffensive presences and display a modicum of competency, but those aren't exactly qualities one would hope for from the ostensible centers of the show.

A quick who's-who: Bellows plays Matt Callan, an agent with, shall we say, issues. Evidently his older brother was also a CIA agent -- a darned good one, and now a dead one. Naturally, because this is the CIA, Matt's brother died in mysterious circumstances. Reuben plays the girlfriend of the deceased; according to expository dialogue, she's become something of a workaholic since her personal life died. If so, Reuben is the most mellow workaholic on television. This serenity may be a fundamental component of Reuben's acting style -- one of the most memorable traits she invested Jeannie Boulet with on E.R. was a bedrock sense of calm -- but it really doesn't do a whole lot to convey that Lisa is using her work to evade sticky personal issues. Finally, Turco -- who is, so far as we know, neither related to nor in love with the deceased -- plays that mythic creature, the Sexy Hacker. Her main job on the show appears to be to humanize Clennon.

If the show goes in the direction it all but spelled out in neon lights in this episode -- Matt will find out why his brother died! And he won't like the answer! -- both Turco and Clennon will be relegated to the background.

The plot device is transparent -- over the course of the first season, look for Matt Callan to continue poking and prodding away at the mystery of why his brother died, and during sweeps, look for the inevitable spiritual crisis when he realizes that the agency he's serving screwed up and killed his brother for no good reason.

In the meantime, feel free to pass out over the course of individual episodes. I watched this one three times and not one moment stuck. The Agency lacks the pedogogical enthusiasm of CSI or the adolescent energy of The West Wing, and the result is a tedious mishmash of expository scenes and improbable cloak-and-dagger action. The show flows smoothly only in the sense that all time appears to take on the elastic, interminable quality associated with stultifying boredom.

This, then, is why David Clennon is so necessary to the show. In the few moments that he's on screen, he manages to embody everything The Agency could be -- a tense narrative balancing the battered souls of the characters against the strange idea that all this furtive spy stuff could actually have a higher moral purpose. Unfortunately five minues of Clennony tartness isn't enough to redeem the rest of The Agency.


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