If you’ve been watching non-Netflix TV over the last while, the promotion of two new network series has been inescapable. They are Whiskey Cavalier and The Enemy Within.
You can get the total gist of Whiskey Cavalier from the trailers. It’s all breezy, romantic action featuring two good-looking actors playing characters who bicker a lot and flirt a little, while fighting international crime in glamorous locations. He’s FBI and a sensitive, by-the-book guy. She’s CIA and madly incautious. It’s a lot of fun, actually, and made mostly by people with a history of making comedy series. It airs Wednesday, ABC, CTV, 10 p.m. and you can catch up online.
The Enemy Within (Sunday, CTV, 10 p.m. and Monday, NBC, 10 p.m.) is a different kettle of cod and the more interesting of the two series. Outrageous in its xenophobia and paranoia, it tells you straight away that in its fictional world there are 100,000 foreign spies operating in the United States. These nefarious no-goodniks are everywhere and liable to cause mayhem at any moment. This is not a series with much nuance and it’s the better entertainment for that.
The show borrows heavily, especially from The Blacklist and from 24. From the former it borrows its core plotline and from the latter it steals the paranoia and endlessly twisting narrative as yet another traitor is revealed.
Mainly what it has going for it is Jennifer Carpenter as Erica Shepherd, a former CIA operative who has spent the past three years in a supermax prison because she betrayed four other CIA agents who were then killed. Very, very reluctantly, FBI Agent Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut) has Erica pulled out of prison to help understand a new series of attacks on the United States and help capture the terrorist mastermind behind it all.
Carpenter is best known for playing Debra Morgan, sister to the good-hearted serial killer Dexter Morgan on Showtime’s Dexter. Her flamboyance with foul language and gauche physical presence made her an adored character. Here she’s obliged to play a figure usually played by male actors who add a rococo quality to their villainy. Think James Spader on The Blacklist or Anthony Hopkins in one of his outings as Hannibal Lecter. The Erica character is far more subdued, steely and cunning. And Carpenter is relishing the adamantine quality of the figure. She is also allowed to deliver many dollops of acid-tongued humour.
Meanwhile, there are escalating attacks and Agent Keaton is continually stymied. He has a hate-on for Erica to begin with, because she’s responsible for the death of his girlfriend. There isn’t much depth to the Keaton character and Morris Chestnut, who keeps turning up on mediocre TV series and doesn’t really have the charisma to make the figure compelling. The real torque of the drama is anchored in the passel of mysterious figures who are out to kill and cause destruction. There are plenty of action scenes and narrow escapes, as Erica mutters insights into what the no-goodniks might do next.
There is a bonkers quality to all of this. Taking its title literally, the show seems intent on revealing that one character after another isn’t trustworthy, but is, in fact, working for the other side. Earnestly paranoid in tone, the show is splendid escapism, if you’re looking for that. With its breathless emphasis on spies, lies and destruction, it breezes along. And it really benefits from Carpenter’s turn as a very mischievous but unknowable villain who might actually be a heroine.
Also airing this weekend
The Case Against Adnan Syed (Crave/HBO Sunday, 9 p.m.), will be compelling for the millions familiar with the true-crime podcast Serial. The story: In 1999, 18-year-old high school student Hae Min Lee disappeared, leading to the murder conviction of her former boyfriend, Adnan Syed. Eighteen years later, after Serial made the story a sensation, the case was reopened. In this new four-part documentary, director Amy Berg re-examines developments, mainly using the perspective of Rabia Chaudry, the lawyer who believed first that Syed had been wrongfully imprisoned.