[04/01/11 - 12:24 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Chaos" (CBS)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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The network's description: "CHAOS is a comedic drama about a group of rogue CIA spies in the Clandestine Administration and Oversight Services (CHAOS), who combat threats to national security amidst bureaucratic gridlock, rampant incompetence and political infighting. The team tackles high-risk foreign intelligence missions using manipulation, deception and wit to succeed. Rick Martinez was dismayed when his dream job as a spy was eliminated on his first day; however, CIA Deputy Director H.J. Higgins, a calculating mastermind and the head of CHAOS, recognizes Rick's unique skill set and places him as an unwitting mole inside the department. Martinez joins the team under Michael Dorset, a psychologist-turned-CIA operative and a tactical genius motivated by pure paranoia.

Working with Dorset is Scottish-born Billy Collins, decommissioned from the British Secret Service and deported from the United Kingdom; and Casey Malick, a 12-year veteran of the agency with an understated demeanor and the ability to transform into a "human weapon." While Martinez's instincts about who he can trust are constantly tested, he seems to have a worthy confidante in the new Deputy Director, Adele Ferrer, who appears to have his best interest at heart. Or, should he rely on officer Fay Carson, an alluring agent and an expert at deciphering people's "tells"? Attacking each assignment with unparalleled confidence and gusto, these operatives perform covert operations, exert political influence and eradicate all manner of evil - and that's just to survive the morning staff meeting."

What did they leave out? Stephen Rea was originally cast as H.J. Higgins but was ultimately replaced with Kurtwood Smith.

The plot in a nutshell: It's Rick Martinez's (Freddy Rodriguez) first day at the CIA - unfortunately for him however, his job in Core Collector training has just been eliminated due to budget cuts. But after a heartfelt plea to H.J. Higgins (Kurtwood Smith being Kurtwood Smith), his would be boss at Clandestine Administration and Oversight Services, he gets offered a new one: be a mole in the Office of Disruptive Services (ODS), a rogue department he's long wanted to shutter. Rick reluctantly accepts and reports for duty at ODS.

There he's given the true lay of the land by Michael Dorset (a wonderfully dry Eric Close), from the agency's technological backwaters to its prevailing culture of blackmail and self-preservation at all costs. It's the latter lesson he learns the hard way as Dorset and his team - Scottish ex-pat Billy Collins (James Murray) and self-described "human weapon" Casey Malick (Tim Blake Nelson, just plain awesome) - quickly turn the tables on Rick and force him to be their plant in Higgins's office. Ultimately, Rick will have to find a way to carve out his own niche and prove to them - and himself - he can survive in the CIA.

What works: There's a madcap nature to the show's proceedings that's a lot of fun: characters continuously rip the tablecloth out from under each other in the name of job security, frequently at the cost of actually doing their job. Case in point: the ODS wants to rescue a kidnapped journalist in the Sudan however Higgins refuses to green light such a risky operation. Now with Rick under their thumb, they finally have an advocate to get it. But in that process, the tables flip in Rick's favor once again, restarting the cycle. To its credit, nobody's a complete villain or hero as Higgins's rationale for sitting on his hands proves to be just as valid as Dorset's for going in guns blazing. For what's in many ways a workplace comedy, it's in some ways a surprisingly grounded take on the much-lionized agency.

Helping give things both its wit and gravitas are our well-cast heroes: from Close's sardonic Dorset (on the CIA's lack of state-of-the-art technology mirroring every other government agency: "When was the last time you walked into the post office and shouted, 'My God I've stepped into the future!'") to Nelson's deceptively vain Casey (despite the others' tubthumping his martial arts skills, he seems more interested in massages and suntan lotion) to Rodriguez's earnest Rick (who innocently offers up his "fluids" - his mother's gumbo - at the security checkpoint) to Murray's roguish Collins (who finds his Sean Connery impersonation has its limits). All in all, they're a fun bunch and I'm eager to see what adventures lay ahead.

What doesn't: On the flip side, the show does hit a wall with Rick's love interest Fay Carson (Carmen Ejogo), who also works for Higgins. Framed in the culture of blackmail and self-preservation, their proposed romance never quite clicks as Fay posits that they have to commit on the first date or risk falling prey to the aforementioned dynamics. An amusingly bold proclamation for sure, however there isn't a spark between them to make that sound like a remote possibility. Furthermore, the show is decidedly un-CBS at its own peril, having more in common with a show like ABC's short-lived "The Unusuals" than the Eye's typical procedural machines.

The bottom line: Nevertheless, we'll take good while we can get it.

  [april 2011]  


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