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: 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.

Agent X: Matt Helm Without the Comedy (Review)

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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.

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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.