Agent X: Matt Helm Without the Comedy (Review)


Admittedly the first half of the Agent X premiere, apart from the presence of Sharon Stone, felt a bit bland. The second half, felt like Matt Helm, without the comedy.  Donald Hamilton, author of the Matt Helm franchise would have been proud.  Granted, the whole Vice President’s personal agent feels a little Wild Wild West, the TV show and not the Will Smith vehicle, but it works…barely.

To be fair, Agent X, aka John Case (Jeff Hephner) is no dead ringer for the New Mexico secret agent that Hamilton created to challenge James Bond’s English double Oh killer. The author wanted to cut away from all the OTT champagne and quail’s eggs dressings of the Queen’s killer and created the tall Helm to show how the Yanks would do it.

Fans of the books will remember that Helm was nothing like Dean Martin’s comic interpretation, which was entertaining in its own right, and that the spy/assassin was wooed and had affairs with the enemy, and if not affairs, at least indulged in mutual attractions. A lot like Olga Fonda‘s  character (Olga Petrovka) and Case’s flirtatious, on her side anyway, relationship in the second half of the two hour pilot.

Hephner’s Agent X may be an American Bond without the foie gras and caviar-filled blinis, but he could  also  be the no nonsense Helm from Hamilton’s books.  With Sharon Stone filling in for the big guy, Mac. (Another nod and wink to the Ian Fleming books, Bond worked for “M”, Helm for Mac…get it?)

The new TNT series feels more like a National Treasure and I Spy mash up than a small screen Americanized James Bond rip off.  Although the Matt Helm theme is all too evident to an old fan of Hamilton’s answer to 007. Even the inclusion of Fonda as Petrovka feels a little like Helm’s old flames, Tina and/or Vadya. (Vadya would be more appropriate as the Russian agent works with Matt several times, Tina gets taken out rather quickly in the first ever book about Helm’s return to “government service.”)

Of course, this series has “hung its credentials around the neck of Stone, who has lost nothing on the small screen. Her portrayal of the new vice president of the USA may be a little serious, and even bland, but it is early days yet. Gerald McRaney as her “right hand man” is good as ever.

Hephner is more than adequate as the “secret” secret agent man, but unless everyone is careful, Fonda could rule this show.

Jeff Hephner in action as John Case, Agent X

It is interesting to note that Agent X also mentions the Dark Web, a presence mentioned on two other shows dealing with the FBI.  Blindspot and The Player both mention this nefarious part of the Internet. Is Hollywood trying to tell us something?

In terms of action and stunts, the new TNT offering is impressive but not as impressive as The Player or Blindspot with their snazzy shoot outs and Philip Winchester has no need to worry about losing his action crown just yet.

Agent X gave viewers a huge dose of gravitas with a guest spot filled by none other than James Earl Jones (Voice of CNN and Mustafa in The Lion King, to mention but two accomplishments by the grand actor and his mellifluous vocal talents.) and Sharon Stone in the “starring role” as boss of the hidden agent gives the series a good pedigree.

However, great bona fides do not a good show make and Agent X needs to up its game to catch up to another TNT series on offer that already gives the audience a palatable “agent” in the guise of Sean Bean’s Martin Odum on Legends.

Agent X airs Sundays on TNT and is, thus far, a slow entry but one that Donald Hamilton may have really enjoyed. While John Case is not Matt Helm, there are enough similarities that this reviewer will be watching to see if they continue. Tune in, if for no other reason than to feast your eyes on Stone or Olga Fonda and their performances.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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