On 'Undercovers,' even spies' marriage can be boring

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REVIEW

REASON TO WATCH: J.J. Abrams can't miss . . . or can he? (The "Lost" co-creator is an executive producer here.)

CAST: Boris Kodjoe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Gerald McRaney

WHEN/WHERE: Wednesday night at 8 on NBC/4

A husband-and-wife spy team are lured back into the field when an agent goes missing, and it falls to grumpy agency liaison Carlton Shaw (Gerald McRaney) to sell them on the benefits of returning full time.

Steven (Boris Kodjoe) and Samantha Bloom (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) aren't easy sells: They got hitched five years ago after deciding the life of a spy was incompatible with marital bliss, and then started a catering business.

MY SAY

Husband-and-wife spy / detective teams are as old as the respective genres, and nearly as old as the hills themselves. Nick and Nora Charles anyone? Mr. and Mrs. Smith? "Hart to Hart"? "McMillan and Wife"? Way past the sexual-tension stage, they're into comfy middle-class and even middle-age routine; their tension has, in fact, become asexual, while their banter reveals mutual affection but also the slightest touch of boredom.

Yet there's nothing like killing a few enemy agents to get the old spark - and repartee - back. "Honey, this counts as our European vacation, right?" Samantha wonders while she and Steven are trailing a diabolical Russian killer across the continent. What's new here? Well, the obvious: Both leads are black, a rarity for a prime-time drama - Mbatha-Raw is a stage-trained English actress, while Kodjoe is Austrian-born.

"Undercovers" is so content to lapse into genre conventions, that it feels complacent and banal. Worse, Kodjoe and Mbatha-Raw have such minimal chemistry that they seem to be shadowboxing most of the time. None of the little verbal jabs connect.

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BOTTOM LINE

Solid leads, so-so chemistry, weak material.

GRADE

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C

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