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'Allegiance' review: Spy thriller in search of thrills

Hope Davis as Katya O'Connor and Scott Cohen

Hope Davis as Katya O'Connor and Scott Cohen as Mark O'Connor in "Allegiance." Credit: NBC / Craig Blankenhorn

THE SHOW "Allegiance"

WHEN|WHERE Thursday at 10 p.m. on NBC/4

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Katya (Hope Davis) and Mark O'Connor (Scott Cohen) are a happily married Brooklyn couple with an adult daughter, Natalie (Margarita Levieva), a teen, Sarah (Alexandra Peters), and son, Alex (Gavin Stenhouse). He's started a new job as a Russian analyst at the CIA -- and is a genius, who literally knows everything, except for this: His parents and older sister are part of a Russian sleeper cell.

One day, a knock comes at the door. Katya's former handler and Russian agent Victor Dobrynin (Morgan Spector) is there. He wants something from her, and she's not gonna like it. The show is produced by George Nolfi ("The Adjustment Bureau") and is based on an Israeli series, "The Gordin Cell."

MY SAY "Allegiance" is a curious duck, indeed. Smart and sophisticated certainly, but -- occasionally -- a bit dim-bulbed and hokey, too. Inherently interesting. Also inherently plodding. Well written, and at times overwritten. Plausible . . . and utterly implausible.

Why the polarities? Because "Allegiance" isn't a duck, but a TV series -- yet one that feels more like a chess match with the rules being made up as it goes along. Nolfi has been very careful about making certain these rules-on-the-fly are consistent -- that's good -- but the deeper into this you get, the more rules there are to keep track of, sort out and understand.

That's not good. We can't all be Alex -- we just want to kick back and watch a TV show.

Comparisons with FX's "The Americans" are inevitable but ultimately superficial. "The Americans" unfolds during the Cold War; "Allegiance" takes place now, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings are spies, Katya and Mark reformed ones (until they are forced back into the game). In both shows, the Russians want the parents to recruit one of the kids -- a huge plot point in "The Americans," but less so here.

Nevertheless, "Allegiance" often does seem like NBC reverse-engineered the FX series in an attempt to come up with a newer, shinier model -- with lots of high-tech gadgets and more high-tech perils. Paradoxically, technology here actually subverts the drama. When everyone on both sides can hear and see everything that goes on, the cover of darkness is removed.

BOTTOM LINE Great New York setting, fine New York actors, smart writing, so what's wrong? "Allegiance" is hard to love and believe.

GRADE C+

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