"How I learned to defend our country, by defying intelligence." So says ex-"Six Feet Under" embalmer (and "Ugly Betty" squeeze) Freddy Rodriguez, now playing a nervous CIA newbie asked to use "the skills and savvy of a seasoned spy, cloaked in the veneer of youthful innocence."

He's assigned by honcho Kurtwood Smith ("That '70s Show") to snoop on the bad boys at the Office of Disruptive Services. This is the kind of team where, when they say "he ate a bullet last week," they're talking stomach pump. These jolly lads (one is Scottish) call each other by endearments like "proud fermenter of negativity" and humbly (not) consider themselves "old-school spooks" allowed to break the rules.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

MY SAY Rule-breaking law enforcers! Wherever have we seen this before? But it sure works Friday, seasoned with devil-may-care brio from a cool cast -- Eric Close ("Without a Trace") as lead spook, James Murray ("Primeval") as the import, and Tim Blake Nelson ("Minority Report") as a very unprepossessing "human weapon."

Will it work next week? That's the question after a pilot hour so front-loaded with setup, action, locations and attitude, directed by "X-Men" helmer Brett Ratner, from a brisk script by Tom Spezialy ("Reaper," "Dead Like Me").

BOTTOM LINE They're only as good as their next mission.