We live in Montclair, N.J., and it was more than a little unsettling to find out that Russian spies had taken up residence in our leafy suburb. It turns out that Cynthia and Richard Murphy of 31 Marquette Road are actually Lydia and Vladimir Guryev.
But it is actually great timing for the debut of USA Network’s new original drama, “Covert Affairs,” which premieres next Tuesday at 10 p.m. The show is about Annie Walker, a young CIA trainee played by Piper Perabo who goes on undercover assignments.
We went to a screening of the pilot episode Thursday night, and we loved it. But if you had told us the show’s concept a few months ago, we’d have said it was rather outlandish: A CIA spy dealing with Russian agents, for example. The Cold War is over, right?
Well, the Montclair Boris-and-Natasha round-up showed us how wrong we were.
At a reception following the screening we asked Bonnie Hammer, president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Universal Cable Productons, if the headlines about the Russians spies would help “Covert Affairs.”
Hammer, looking as slim and perfect as ever, said, “It never hurts when something in the zeitgeist at large kind of happens at a time when you’re launching something.”
She went on, “The fact that the Russians and U.S. may be trading, I think it’s totally hysterical, because a lot of our stories deal with working with operatives that are… from other places. Let’s put it this way: There’s no downside.”
But we’ll digress here, because getting to the screening was a bit challenging. It was held at the hip Soho House hotel in Manhattan, and we dreaded making the trip in, since the Big Apple has been more like Phoenix this week, with 105 degree temperatures. But after being like a sauna Thursday morning, it actually cooled off a bit as we boarded our bus.
As we sat on the bus, our sister called to say there was a big fire on Houston Street, and we weren’t sure if it was near the screening location. As it turns out, it was not.
And as we walked across Ninth Avenue to get to the screening at 14th Street at the Soho House, we saw NYPD cars and a crowd. Turns out about an hour before we got there, a “deranged man” had walked into a sunglass store at Ninth Avenue and 15th Street, just a few blocks away, and stabbed four people. The Post and Times wrote about that violent spree, as well.
Happy that we made it to the screening alive, without being burned or stabbed, we settled into a comfy seat the tiny theater inside the Soho House, with a cocktail in one hand and two chocolate bars (courtesy of USA) in the other.
The pilot episode was introduced by Doug Liman and David Bartis, the show’s executive producers. Bartis is a espionage junkie, and produced the Bourne movie trilogy, as well as “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”
“This started two years ago with USA, and they warned us it was going to be a slow process,” Bartis said. “The upside was they would always tell us what they wanted, and if we were giving it to them. They were true to their word, and it was a fantastic process.”
Liman said he’s always “been pretty obsessed with spy stories.” He said he’s done a lot of research and spent a lot of time around the CIA and CIA officers (you’d think he’d want to avoid those types), and comes across so many stories that “there’s no way I could ever make enough movies to sort of have a home for these stories.” That home is now USA, he said.
We are not fans of the espionage genre, but we really enjoyed “Covert Affairs.” As a CIA agent who speaks six languages, Perabo gets to play different characters as she goes undercover, just like Jennifer Garner did in “Alias.” For example, in the first “Covert Affairs” Perabo pretends to be a prostitute in order to recover a device with important “intel” (what is this, “24”?on it.
“It’s so cool,” Perabo said after the screening. “She’s a hero. She’s smart. She’s great, and as an actor, you play all these different roles.”
We’ve liked Perabo since we saw her in “Coyote Ugly,” which has been on TV several times during the past few weeks. In that movie, she played a girl from New Jersey who tried to make it in New York City. In real life, Perabo is actually a Jersey girl. She told us she was from Toms River.
She looked gorgeous, slim as a reed and wearing a bright red dress that was slit almost to her navel.
We asked her about the timeliness of the suburban Russian spies and “Covert Affairs” debut.
“I was reading The Times this morning and they were talking about the trade, all the real aspects are very frightening… but it is sort of wonderful for us…It (spying) goes on in small towns, and neighbors do that, and it embraces that whole idea of the real life of a spy right into focus.”
In the show, Perabo’s character speaks half a dozen languages.
Like an idiot, we asked her, “Do you really speak six languages?” Duh. She’s an actress, like a real CIA agent.
We then quickly rephrased the question, and asked how hard it was to ACT like you know six language, and speak them well.
Perabo said that she’s good at learning lines, so that helps, and that she has tutors for all the different languages she spaks on the show.
“Covert Affairs” has a great cast, including Peter Gallagher, Kari Matchett of “24” and “Invasion,” and Anne Dudek of “Mad Men.”
But the real surprise is Christopher Gorham, who played Ugly Betty’s goofy boyfriend, and on “Covert Affairs” plays a charming, cute blind military intelligence agent. We likey.