Undercovers is a TV show that aired 11 episodes in autumn 2010. It was cancelled due to low ratings before the entire first season even got the chance to air — just 43 days after it premiered. My friend Jordan and I were likely the show’s only two viewers. But, I am here to tell you: Undercovers is a goddamn DELIGHT.
Let me back up: Undercovers was created by J.J. Abrams (yes, the guy who did Lost) and Josh Reims. It stars two very beautiful humans, Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. They play a married couple who left the CIA to open a catering company, but they are pulled back in for a mission that only they can do! GASP! So, they have to maintain their cover as caterers while going on missions. The tagline? “Two former spies reenter the world of international espionage when their friend goes missing. It could be just the thing to spice up their marriage.”
It’s silly and absurd and I am simply obsessed with it. Also starring in Undercovers? Ben Schwartz. Yes, Ben Schwartz is in this as well. I’ll get back to him.
Here’s the cast, at a NBC party the summer before the show premiered/aired/was cancelled:
Undercovers was going to be the big break for Kodjoe and Mbatha-Raw. Mbatha-Raw was still a relatively unknown actor in 2010. While she had a four-episode arc on Doctor Who in 2007, and starred opposite Jude Law in Hamlet in the West End and on Broadway in 2009, Mbatha-Raw really broke through starring in Belle in 2013, and Beyond the Lights in 2014. Kodjoe, on the other hand, had a few acting credits to his name, yet the New York Times still described him as a “former model” in their review of the show. (Rude!) He made his debut on Love & Basketball (!!) and then rose to fame on the Showtime drama Soul Food, which aired from 2000 to 2004, and had a few minor roles in movies and TV. However, Undercovers was his first lead role.
Quick biographical note on Kodjoe: He is the son of a Ghanaian dad and a German Jewish mom; his grandmother survived the Holocaust, and his great-grandmother was murdered. When explaining his heritage, he said, “My grandmother’s part Jewish, which makes my mother and myself Jewish, by blood. But we weren’t raised in the Jewish faith.”
Okay, back to the show. Here’s the trailer:
When it premiered, the reviews were brutal. It has a solid 36% on Rotten Tomatoes. “The banter between the Blooms is so full of cloying sugar substitutes and so devoid of any real tension that there is no voyeuristic thrill to be had even from their — I’m just going to say it, because the show does — ‘sexpionage.’ The gazes they exchange are part soft pornography, part Lifetime television. Someone just give these people a cooking show,” writes Ginia Bellafante in the New York Times.
After it was canceled, J.J. Abrams said, “I completely blame myself for the entire thing. The conceit of the show was to do a much more frivolous, fun show, but ultimately, I think it was just too frivolous and too simple, and we didn’t go deep enough. We were really desperately trying to stay away from mythology and complexity and intensity and too much serious, dark storytelling and, ultimately, that’s not necessarily what I do best. I think audiences felt that it was a little bit lacking. I see that and completely take responsibility for its failing.”
J.J. Abrams, I do not see it lacking!!! Sometimes you need frivolous and simple and absurdity. That terrible review I quoted above? It was titled “Covert Affairs: Capers Paired With Canapés.” Doesn’t that sound amazing? It’s all I want out of my television!
So, why should you watch Undercovers? Well, one: You can watch all 11 episodes on tubi, a streaming platform that is free that I haven’t heard of until one evening last year when I googled “stream Undercovers.” Two: It’s so bad it’s good. The show is kinda like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, if you want to compare the premise of “spies who are also married,” but take out the insane sexual tension and add in a sitcom vibe with Ben Schwartz. It’s pure fluff. If you loved Pysch or Covert Affairs or any of those other USA shows, this is exactly in that mold. And three: Spies. Spies! Who doesn’t want a lighthearted spy show!?