Hey, do you like that show ‘The Americans’ on FX? Oh, you don’t have cable and/or don’t like TV shows with too much sex, violence or edgy subject matter? Not to worry, NBC has got you covered with a knockoff called ‘Allegiance’ that’s been safely watered down for mainstream consumption.
The main difference between this show and ‘The Americans’ is that ‘Allegiance’ is set in the present day, which means that it immediately loses all those really cool trappings of the period setting and nifty 1980s spycraft in favor of newer generic spy tropes about data mining and our surveillance state. Bummer.
Scott Cohen from ‘Gilmore Girls’ and Hope Davis play Mark and Katya O’Connor. He’s an executive at a major defense contractor firm, and she’s a housewife with a dodgy Russian accent that comes and goes from scene to scene. They’re both also deep-cover Russian spies. At least, they used to be. They’ve apparently been out of the spying game for a few years. Or so they think.
Decades earlier, Katya had been planted in the United States by the KGB’s Directorate S program, and she recruited Mark to help her. They have a few children. Their oldest daughter Natalie knows their secret, but their other two children don’t. In fact, son Alex (Gavin Stenhouse) is a new recruit at the CIA and has no idea about his parents’ past. Alex is some sort of genius savant who suffered a traumatic incident in childhood that we’re not allowed to know yet. This is signified by a nervous tic and his constantly playing with a stress ball. Whatever it was that happened to him, mom Katya still feels very guilty about it. Both parents are determined that their children lead normal lives, and that Alex in particular never finds out about them.
Of course, the Cold War is long since over, and the KBG is gone now. In its place is a new Russian agency called the SVR, which seems to be basically the same thing. To make sure this is abundantly clear, the point is hammered home in dialogue during the first scene, and later Alex walks into an office in the CIA where a flow chart on the wall comically spells out “SVR = KGB” in giant letters.
For his first assignment as an analyst, Alex is asked to evaluate a Russian defector who claims to have information on a plot to destroy major American infrastructure. The CIA thinks she may be a “dangle” thrown their way to mislead them with false information. Alex has to use his Sherlock Holmesian deductive reasoning to suss out the veracity of her story.
Meanwhile, Mark and Katya are visited by their former Russian handler Victor, who not only insists that they still work for him, but orders them to recruit Alex to be a mole within the CIA. Katya wants the whole family to run, but daughter Natalie doesn’t want to go (probably because, unbeknownst to mom and dad, she’s totally boning Victor). It’s a moot point anyway, as Victor has already canceled all their credit cards and frozen all their bank accounts, even the secret ones.
Katya then tries to turn herself into the FBI, but Mark stops her. He has a better plan. They’ll spy on Alex and report everything he does to the SVR. Alex will be a mole without even knowing it. Immediately, they replace the SIM card in his phone and plant a tracker on his car.
The only problem with this plan is that Alex is much smarter than they are. His defector witnessed the murder on American soil of a man supposedly disloyal to the SVR, and Alex recognizes him as an old friend of his parents. It doesn’t take him too long to put 2 and 2 together. The pilot episode ends with him confronting his parents and demanding that they tell him everything.
Truth be told, ‘Allegiance’ isn’t a bad show. Judged on its own, it’s pretty decent major network fare and will probably pair well with ‘The Blacklist’ on NBC. Nevertheless, it feels very tame and bland compared to the superior ‘The Americans’, and never once did I believe in its authenticity. It feels too much like a TV show. I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll bother watching any more.