TV review: 'Allegiance'

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"Allegiance" features Hope Davis and Scott Cohen as the sleeper- spy parents of a brilliant rookie CIA analyst. (CRAIG BLANKENHORN / NBC)

In the immortal words of Walt Kelly's cartoon possum Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

In NBC's new series Allegiance (10 p.m. Thursday), as in FX's The Americans, that looking-good couple raising a family next door are actually Russian agents planted years before. Ozzie and Harriet are spies!

In fact, when we are introduced to Allegiance's Katya O'Connor (Hope Davis of The Newsroom), she is the very picture of Betty Crocker domesticity, wearing an apron in her sunny kitchen in Brooklyn, making pie.

Dad (Scott Cohen of USA's Necessary Roughness) is the senior director of a defense contractor who spends remarkably little time in the office, opting instead to run errands. And when Katya isn't baking, she's a pediatric surgeon, but practices only one day a week.

The twist is that their son, Alex (newcomer Gavin Stenhouse), is a brilliant rookie analyst at the CIA. He's the Sherlock of spying, pulling clues out of thin air with his abstruse observations. "What are you, a thermochemist?" asks an astonished FBI agent.

He had better be good. The small army of Russians on our soil has formidable resources and broad latitude in this country. As our story begins, they are hatching a plot that will "bring America to its knees."

Worse, the Russians, in the person of snidely Victor (Morgan Spector), are pressuring the O'Connors to turn Alex, to make him into a double agent as they did his older sister (Revenge's Margarita Levieva).

Sound far-fetched? Sure. But Allegiance has a lot going for it. It's sharply produced and well-acted (right down to the smaller supporting roles played by such actors as Patricia Kalember, Robert John Burke, and Fred Dalton Thompson). And its New York City locations are quite pungent.

(Actually the third episode is pretty Philly-centric, revolving around City Hall and the nearby Masonic Temple on North Broad Street. There's even a cameo from Mayor Nutter.)

The problem is that Allegiance seems to have painted itself into a corner with its overwrought premise. It dictates that at least once an episode, Alex must come heart-stoppingly close to uncovering his parents' secret. Halfway through the pilot and he's already huffing, "You can tell me everything from the beginning, or I can turn you in."

That's a tough scenario to build up to and defuse repeatedly without quickly becoming outlandish. Unnecessary, too, because the character of Alex is compelling enough to drive a show. Sandbagging him with the family secret at every turn is only going to constrict the storytelling.

Allegiance would work better as a limited-run series than as an open-ended serial. Be sure you watch early, before it starts coming apart at the seams.

 


TELEVISION

Allegiance

Premieres 10 p.m. Thursday on NBC10.


dhiltbrand@phillynews.com

215-854-4875 @daveondemand_tv