Three episodes of the first season of “Allegiance” were provided for review purposes prior to broadcast.
The word that comes to mind most when considering NBC’s latest dramatic venture, Allegiance, is potential. Boasting a stellar Hope Davis, an intriguing set-up and (at least three episodes in) surprisingly slick scripts, it has all the trappings of a new hit for the network – but more than that, if it stays true to its characters and time-bomb narrative, Allegiance feels like it could turn into must-watch television somewhere down the line.
It’s not quite there yet. Like FX’s The Americans (a show it has been inevitably but not entirely fairly accused of ripping off), Allegiance mixes the espionage thriller with the family drama, with an increased emphasis on the former. That’s about where comparisons to that brilliant series end, though. Whereas The Americans is a rich, multi-layered drama about two Cold War spies battling their own moral compasses as they gather intel for the motherland, Allegiance is much more commercial and plot-driven affair, about as likely to showcase ambitious, Emmy-worthy scripts as it is to suddenly pop a cap in any of its photogenic leads.
However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If Allegiance tried to ape The Americans, it would fail, no bones about it. The other series is just too masterful at what it does for any logical human being to honestly consider the possibility that a young upstart (on a Big Four network, no less) could beat it at its own game. So, smartly, series creator George Nolfi sets his show apart, positioning it as a slick, spine-tingling thriller procedural with shades of Mission: Impossible, 24 and the Bourne franchise. The show’s ambitions may be lowered, but its narrative remains taut.
Allegiance centers on Katya O’Connor (Hope Davis, the single most compelling reason to watch this series), a former KGB agent who met her American husband Mark (Scott Cohen) while attempting to recruit him to spy for Russia. Permitted to marry him and move to the United States only if she remained available to her controllers for missions, Katya managed to leave that life behind, raising a family with minimal intrusions. She’s brusquely reactivated, though, when KGB assets learn that the CIA has caught wind of a massive Russian op that could plunge the United States into chaos. Together with Mark, Katya is given the most difficult target of her career: their brilliant son Alex (Gavin Stenhouse) who, in an ironic twist, has been recruited by the CIA as an analyst and tasked with finding out exactly what the Russians are up to.
The underlying serial elements of that narrative provide some of Allegiance‘s most intriguing moments. Unless it fails to follow through on its initally whip-smart characters and temporally finite premise (because, after all, how long can Alex, who is shown to possess a Sherlockian intellect, really fail to see that his own parents are involved in something more sinister than ferrying his little sister back and forth from school?), the series could grow into a subtler successor to 24, with its characters’ various loyalties colliding to explosive effect. Right now, the scripts are split between Alex’s weekly investigations (which find him tracking various Russian assets with such outside-the-box ingenuity that he registers as yet another “awkward genius” character in the vein of Elementary‘s Holmes and practically anyone on Scorpion) and the overarching story about an impending plot against the United States, in which Katya and Mark will play a key role.