Agent X: Finale – A TNT Slap in the Face

Perhaps the fashion that TNT handled the last ever Agent X, with its two hour finale, clearly shows how the network feels about their “former” series.

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Perhaps the fashion that TNT handled the last ever Agent X, with its two hour finale, clearly shows how the network feels about their “former” series.  The last two episodes were put together for a two hour, in reality slightly less, extravaganza where John Case questions would be, hopefully,  answered.  Sadly, as the old saying goes John Case and his world was fleeting, so much so that only one of the two episodes can actually be viewed upon “demand”  from the TNT website, the day after.

What a slap-dash approach toward the fans of the show.  Where if they did not have the wherewithal to record or watch live the demise of their series, TNT gave no option to view the last two episodes the day after on their own network site. Is it any wonder that the show was doomed to fail?

Agent X was beginning to feel like the red-headed stepchild of TNT, before being given the axe.  There were things that could have been done to improve the overall “awesome” factor of the show. For example, having Fred Dryer (old “Hunter” himself) showing up, not once but twice and having some excellent comic banter with Gerald McRaney was a good thing.

Sadly, like the reintroduction (finally) of Olga Fonda, it was too little too late. On a sidenote here, it was great to see that busy, busy actress Kristina Klebe as a cornrowed villain (Do not tell Amandla Stenberg…Kay?) who got to kick a little butt before Fonda’s character won…

Fonda and Jeff Hephner made a great team and should have been put together as much as possible while on the same token less could have been seen of Ms. Stone and her “boss” John Shea. Neither of these two ever really meshed properly.  Sharon Stone is understandable, she is “big screen” and downplays as a matter of course, sadly this worked to her disadvantage in the series.

(There are other examples of “big time” stars and actors who have a hard time performing outside the medium of film. A perfect example is Lance Henriksen. On the big screen, Henriksen is a master at what he does. *He was also damned brilliant in the small screen “X-File Clone/wannabe” “Millennium”  as Frank Black – 1996-99.*

In 2009, Lance played General Shepherd in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. At least one CoD player was super excited that Henriksen was on board as an “in-game” character. Until, that is, Shepherd opened his gob in the game and spoke.  The actor downplayed his performance so much, he seemed to be reading his lines and was apparently bored out of his skull while doing so.  Big screen technique just did not work for the video game VO and this seems to be what Stone has suffered from.)

Shea, however, is a flat out miss. The actor is a TV performer, but he just failed to “spark.” C’est  la vie.  Some things just do not work in the area of casting…

Sadly, Agent X being terminated after its one season, leaves Jeff Hephner out in the cold. Hephner was more than capable in terms of acting and looking damned impressive whilst doing his stunts.  As stated before, McRaney (an old hand at the game) was spot on and Hephner had no apologies to make at all.

Andrew Howard as the  villain, did a good job given the OTT dialogue he was given and considering that in the last episode (available to be seen from TNT thus far – Penultimatum and not the “real” end episode Fidelity) he worked in pitted him against an abysmal acting partner the actor did very well.

It is harsh and unpleasant to point out, but  John Case’s gal Pamela (Carolyn Stotesbery) may be lovely to look at and delightful to hold, but the young lady’s acting skills would leave her trapped inside a wet paper bag.  To be fair to the performer, perhaps the lines never felt right, or…something. 

How sad that Agent X has gone out on a note where the wooden love interest of Agent Case is saved  (In the first half of the final episode that is).  Not wishing her harm but, if Pamela expired in that cargo container, Olga Petrovka and John Case would have made a “killer” couple…

So long to John Case’s short lived world, t’would have been nice to see the entire two hour end episode, but the end result is the same, another one bites the dust. TNT slaps its show in the face, or more accurately the show’s fans. Nice one chaps.

 

Agent X: TNT Sends Secret Agent Series to the Bench

TNT have axed a number of shows, two new and one that had returned with a drastically changed premise and cast. The secret agent series Agent X has been sent to the bench along with Public Morals, another new series.

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TNT have axed a number of shows, two new and one that had returned with a drastically changed premise and cast.  The secret agent series Agent X has been sent to the bench along with Public Morals, another new series. Legends, which had returned with Sean Bean as the “solo” actor to return from season one (apart from Morris Chestnut as FBI agent Tony Rice), has also been sent off the field.

Out of the three who have been cancelled, only Legends was no real surprise. While the first season squeaked into a second chance, the premise of a deep cover agent who had real identity problems could have worked, but not after taking out so much of the cast. Bean is an excellent actor but the chemistry between he and Ali Larter and Tina Majorino worked well, their removal felt like a coup of sorts instead of a re-imaging of the show’s plot line.

Public Morals was entertaining in a niche sort of way, Irish cops and a time when the beat meant taking bribes and under the table payments to look the other way. Criminals were handled and tolerated in this show and it could have been interesting to see how things were going to turn out.

Of the shows relegated into anonymity  Agent X showed the most promise, despite a rather tepid performance by figurehead star Sharon Stone. Jeff Hephner gave a performance that entertained even then the show’s writers left his character to stumble. Part of the problem had to do with  the show wanting to run before it could walk.

Time spent allowing the character of John Case to develop was minimal, instead plot devices were used to endanger the character before the audience ever really cared. Stone, as the vice president underplayed her role so much that she could have been sleepwalking. Gerald McRaney was good value, as was Olga Fonda, but this was not enough to guarantee a huge audience.

Sadly, the two characters with the best chemistry, Fonda and Hephner, were not paired up enough. Granted the inclusion of Andrew Howard, who was eliminated over on Agents of SHIELD,  turning up as “Bond-ian” villain Volker/Ray Palmer, was a nice touch but once again the audience was expected to really care whether Case won over his old colleague.

The shooting of President Eckhart (John Shea) also did not really accomplish much apart from allowing Stone to awaken from her slumber a second time. (The first being in an earlier episode where the actress got a little action in with a sidearm.) Of course the plot line relied upon a conspiracy to kill the president, but sadly, we never saw enough of Eckhart to like him, let alone care that he had been shot.

In the previous episode, it is revealed that not only Eckhart, but Millar (McRaney) as well, are not very nice people. This revelation means that the near-death of the president is even less bothersome than perhaps the creators had hoped for.

Agent X had the best viewing figures, but apparently not high enough to keep the show going.  It seems that “action” genre shows are not meant to be in 2015. NBC cancelled their slow starter The Player (which incidentally also had a film star figurehead, Wesley Snipes; who “got it” a lot faster than Stone) right after it settled into a decent pace and gave us more interesting characters.

Perhaps the demographic aimed at by TNT and NBC do not want action.  Something must be keeping the viewing figures down, each show, Agent X and The Player, and Legends to a degree, had impressive fight scenes, stunts and car chases.  It could well be that with insanely paced action films like Furious 7 and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation on offer, small screen versions just cannot keep up.

With the Internet and On Demand streaming, Netflix, Hulu and a plethora of other channels and websites  competing with television , it looks like the networks need to “up their game.”  That said, there also appears to be no real bench mark to aim for. Shows like Quantico (Miss World and Mr Universe put on FBI badges)  and Blindspot (which is basically “let’s solve a tattoo a week”  show) have fared quite well.

Still, Agent X will be missed, as will Sean Bean and those Irish cops in Public Morals. There was enough diversity in each show that the series offered something in the area of entertainment.  Things have changed in the viewing stakes, there are other shows with viewing figures comparable to Agent X‘s 1.7 million per episode. While these numbers are not overly impressive, they are more the norm for viewer figures across the board.

In the meantime TNT have, apparently, allowed Agent X the luxury of finishing out its only  season. Unfortunately it is difficult to watch a “deadman walking” series and drum up any enthusiasm.  Ironically, Sunday’s episode, Angels and Demons, brought back Olga Fonda but sadly it is a case of too little too late.  RIP Agent X and John Case.

Agent X: Long Walk Home (Review)

After watching the second half of the Agent X two-parter, Long Walk Home where it looked like John Case might just be exterminated with extreme prejudice by his captor, Ray (Andrew Howard) some things about the show were clearly missing…or about to be.

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After watching the second half of the Agent X two-parter, Long Walk Home where it looked like John Case might just be exterminated with extreme prejudice by his captor, Ray (Andrew Howard) some things about the show were clearly missing…or about to be. Sharon Stone, for example was barely in the episode and the president, John Shea playing the leader of the country Thomas Eckhart, lay bleeding out on the carpet. 

Agent X is, thus far, the show that everyone seems to hate for one reason or another.  Certainly the viewing figures are abysmal, a paltry 1.07 million in the show’s targeted demographic which is a good .09 less than the already cancelled Franklin and Bash. 

The spy show with a twist, the agent belongs exclusively to the VP, is pretty entertaining…in parts. Jeff Hephner has always given his all and is a great action actor who looks at home either in the training dojo or manufacturing MacGyver type bombs in a downed helicopter. The problem clearly does not lay with the lead but with the show’s creator W. Blake Herron who appears to be flailing about with the direction/storyline arc of the series. 

Granted the entire show revolves around a plot to kill the president as well as Vice President Maccabee (Sharon Stone) both learning about her pet secret agent man and then deploying hm on special errands.  Not too surprisingly, it turns out that the men in the White House are not sparkling clean upright representatives of the country.

It seems that Eckhart (Shea) and Millar (Gerald McRaney) are covered in some pretty heavy dirty double dealings which come to light in the most recent episode. To be fair, apart from the CG looking explosions, this second half worked very well in terms of action and some of that “for mature audiences only” gore and violence. 

Nothing was over the top, but Millar finding the dead “hacker” was pretty sobering stuff.

It has to be said that in terms of FX, while the explosions and fires all “look” computer generated and therefore slightly rubbish, the blood spilt, which is minimal, does not look to be CG at all. The drips and splatters of “claret” look like practical “fake blood.” This is a nice touch and one that helps to sell the fight scenes.

The end of the episode leaves the viewer wondering who John Case’s new boss will be when Maccabee becomes the new Pres. While Eckhart may survive, it is clear that this president has very dirty hands, as does his right hand man Millar.  Stone moving over into the lead slot may change the dynamic of the show, but no one will be around to see it as this one looks doomed to be a no starter for another season.

The casting has, overall, worked well. While Andrew Howard’s character may, or may not, be dead, his vicious villain was in great contrast to the dogmatic and moral John Case. Certainly Case could be cold blooded when needed, bad guys were not eased gently into the next realm but he was the good side of the same coin.  The show could have used more Olga Fonda as the agent who played ball with Case at the start of the series.

Regardless of the latest change in direction, (one that appears to be putting Gerald McRaney in the his almost obligatory role of bad guy – does no one else remember how “good” McRaney was as a “good guy?” Simon and Simon, Major Dad? Anyone?)

Still, typecasting aside, the episode posed some interesting questions. The main one being just who will take Maccabee’s place as the boss of Agent X, aka John Case.  The whole thing might just be a no brainer with the figures being so low.  TNT usually allow a show to find its feet before letting the axe fall, one can only hope that the network will at least let Agent X finish the last three episodes.

It would be  a shame to let the series die after Stone finally remembered that wildly underplaying her role did not equate to some  sort of gravitas by osmosis.  Stone is an actress with chops…big ones. She only just got to show a glimmer of them in the episode where the negotiations on a helicopter ended after an EMP cannon blast.

Agent X airs Sundays on TNT tune in and watch it while you can.

Agent X: Sacrifice – Moving on Up (Review)

After Agent X has spent a lot of time building up John Case (the agent is one tough customer) a Mayan battle axe takes the man down. Surprises all around as the vice president’s personal weapon of choice seemed, apart from his poisoning last week, pretty much too tough to tackle.

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After  Agent X has spent a lot of time building up John Case (the agent is one tough customer) a Mayan battle axe takes the man down. Surprises all around as the vice president’s personal weapon of choice seemed, apart from his poisoning last week, pretty much too tough to tackle.  Sharon Stone finally moves up and out of the White House and into a helicopter which allows her to move away from the somnambulistic acting style that the Oscar nominated actress has adopted thus far.

Before going into a closer look at the show, mad props to whoever decided to make John Case (Jeff Hephner) a disciple of MacGyver (for those who have not had a television glued to their face since birth, MacGyver, played by Richard Dean Anderson, was the all time master at improvisational weapon making) as proven when he boobytraps the crashed chopper with petrol, a flare gun and the fire extinguisher. What ever else happened in this episode, this was its crowning moment. 

A flashback, which becomes very important later on, has John and Millar (Gerald McRaney)  in a marina observing a takedown being orchestrated by fellow agent, and friend of Case, Ray – whose face we never see. Ray is blown up while onboard his sailing vessel, via a purse bomb and his body is charred beyond recognition.  John feels responsible and Millar lets him.  Malcolm tells the then vice president and later president, Eckhart that he will be of more use “that way.” 

Fast forward and Natalie Maccabee takes on the task of mediator when negotiations break down between the Mexican president and an insurgent who sells drugs to buy weapons.  The VP take the two parties on a helicopter ride, over Mexico,  where they cannot just leave when things get rough.

Unfortunately, Nicolas Volker (Andrew Howard) and his team steal an E.M.P cannon and shoot both Maccabee’s chopper and their escort bird out of the air.  Luckily for all on board the vice president’s ride (except for the pilot and co-pilot who die in the crash)  Case is on hand.

The Mexican president is badly injured and the insurgent, along with his daughter (played brilliantly by Gabrielle Walsh), and  Maccabee move the wounded man to a Mayan archeological site for treatment and to call for help. Case stops off to “arm” the fallen chopper and takes out most of the villainous Volker’s crew. 

Another “mad props” moment is when, after the explosion, only Nicolas and one henchman are left alive. The henchman has a leg that has been pretty much shredded by the blast.  Cue a The Wild Bunch moment.  In true Sam Peckinpah style, the wounded baddy tells his boss that “I can walk.”

Staggering and falling the wounded man moves away from Volker. While this leader does not shoot his injured minion in the face, he does smash his skull with a rock. The implication is different in Agent X than in the Peckinpah film.  Pike  shoots his gang member for two reasons, to put him out of his suffering and because he will slow them up.

Nicolas kills his one surviving team member, one feels, just because the man will hinder his mission, both acts are cold-blooded and shocking.

Volker, who would make any Bond villain proud, was at the Mayan dig  before the survivors – they shot down the helicopters from the  site, and Maccabee and co.  find all the workers dead, murdered by Volker and his men.  The villain shows up later and when he leaves, Case is his unwilling travel partner.

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Gerald McRaney and Sharon Stone

This episode marks a turning point for Agent X. While it still shows off Gerald McRaney and star Hephner in a good light, it also allowed Sharon Stone to drop the sleep walking performance that has marred the series thus far.  For a start, her Maccabee is allowed to get out of the White House, or that secret office, and do something other than be a figurehead.

She works well in the negotiation scenes and later, as they all scramble for safety, Stone rises to the occasion as Maccabee.  The VP is even allowed to use Case’s service pistol to shoot, and wing, Volker.

Up north of the border, McRaney discovers that a trusted colleague “betrayed” the brotherhood, by leaving a hole in their computer system’s security software.  This realization leads to a discovery that Case has already made.

An interteresting note is that Eckhart (John Shea) turns up when Maccabee goes missing, it seems that when the current VP dies, or is “lost” the previous one steps in. While this facilitated the plot of Sacrifice, it also screams “plot-hole.”  Trying to imaging a prior VP, who could well be from another political party and no longer in office suddenly being in charge of Agent X again is stretching the old suspension of disbelief envelope to breaking.

Overall this episode worked, despite the show makers putting John Case in peril again. After last week’s episode also put Case in a life or death situation, this could be seen as a lack of creativity. This is not, however, the case (no pun intended) this  week’s plot device makes sense when the flashback and the storyline are all put together.

While Olga Petrovka’s absence is still keenly  felt, Nicolas Volker as villain is fun to watch and his larger than life “Big Bad” actions make him a real treat. Hephner still sells it as the “super” agent, who is more Jason Bourne than James Bond, although a bit more “human” than Bourne.

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Jeff Hephner

Agent X  is moving up the scale.  The actors are settling in and hitting their stride, some quicker than others but this is starting to come together. The series airs Sundays on TNT;  tune in and see how the Yank’s do “licensed to kill.” Cracking entertainment that just leapt up a notch.

 

Agent X: Truth, Lies and Consequences (Review)

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about this week’s Agent X: Truth, Lies and Consequences is the cameo by former Hunter star Fred Dryer, all that was needed to make this a complete fanboy moment would have been the presence of Dryer’s co-star from the small screen version of “Dirty Harry” Stepfanie Kramer.

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Perhaps the best thing that can be said about this week’s Agent X: Truth, Lies and Consequences is the cameo by former  Hunter star Fred Dryer, all that was needed to make this a complete fanboy moment would have been the presence of Dryer’s co-star from the small screen version of “Dirty Harry” Stepfanie Kramer.  In terms of guest starring cameos, even though Dryer is not on long, Fred has not lost his ease and conviction in front of the camera.

The storyline this week has John Case (Jeff Hephner) being exposed to a biological agent which induces a heart attack to those infected by “Husk” after 12 hours.  This gives the vice president’s agent a very limited time to catch the villains responsible and to stop them from infecting thousands of innocent civilians. 

Sharon Stone, as Natalie Maccabee, widow and new vice president to John Shea‘s President Eckhart, seems to be trapped into underplaying her government official to the maximum extent possible.  While this somnambulistic approach works well in many cases on the big screen, it makes for a pretty underwhelming experience on television.

The main problem may well be that Stone is the mast which this series has been hoist upon, in other words, she is the draw…the figurehead, the “name” meant to pull in  viewers. With little to do, apart from assigning her agent to various “world saving missions” the star, who has, incidentally, massive acting chops, is being dangerously underused.

Thus far, her “right-hand man” Gerald McRaney as Malcolm Millar is infinitely more entertaining and watchable. Take the episode open where Case is annihilating the practice dummies in his workout room. Millar comes in and stares down at Agent X beating the thing into submission.

Millar to Case: “Hey! You keep killing em all, we’ll never get any intel.”

McRaney specializes in these type of roles, the sage and clever advisor who has seen it all and done it all and can crack a decent joke about it.  However, having a righthand man who can dominate a scene does not help Stone, or the show since McRaney is never on screen that much or that often.

Leaving aside shortfalls of the cast’s main protagonists, or misuse of same, the plot has Case rushing to save the day while turning down help, in the form of an anecdote, which will keep him from dying. Sadly we as viewers have not yet bonded enough with Hephner’s John Case to be too worried about his possible demise.

The threat of an airborne virus to be released from a rocket also never really takes off either. A young woman, whose whistle-blower parents were murdered by the government to keep their biological weapon in their control may be a variation on an old theme, but not enough of one to make a difference.

The viewer does not connect with the woman who wants revenge, or her nerdish “boyfriend” that she uses to make her weapon work.  This year has seen a plethora of “nebbish” young men in other shows, NBC’s The Player to mention just one, and it is awfully early in the season to see this much “lack of originality” in a storyline.

Agent X does have some things going for it. Unfortunately none of them were apparent in this episode.  The writers,  under the guidance of show creator W. Blake Herron have given us a hero in peril too soon. We have not yet warmed to this taciturn secret agent/assassin who is the agent of good for the vice president.

Bring back Olga Petrovka (Olga Fonda) , a  bigger than life villain who has an uneasy alliance, and great chemistry, with Hephner. These two maintain interest when they share the screen and please, would someone wake Sharon Stone up, or give her some decent lines?  At the very least…More McRaney please.

Agent X airs Sundays on TNT. Tune in and see what you think of the sleepwalking vice president and her “pet” agent.