Television loves to follow trends. Think of all the poor science-fiction dramas that followed Lost or all the “unique” family sitcoms that have been popping up since the success of Modern Family. With FX’s The Americans appearing on numerous best-of lists and steadily gaining a strong following, it was only a matter of time before networks started churning out spy thrillers. NBC’s Allegiance isn’t just inspired by The Americans — it’s essentially a frustratingly bland carbon copy that fails at capturing the urgency of The Americans‘ narrative. The only impressive thing about Allegiance is that it manages to take a dramatically interesting premise — family spy vs. spy — and make it utterly boring.
Allegiance, which takes place in the present — most likely so NBC can continue to claim it’s nothing like The Americans — follows the story of the O’Connor family. Katya (Hope Davis) and Mark (Scott Cohen) are Russian spies who were deactivated a few decades ago, although their oldest daughter Natalie (Margarita Levieva) follows in the family business. However, their son Alex (Gavin Stenhouse), who was raised ignorant to his family’s past, has found his calling as a CIA analyst who specializes in, sigh, Russian affairs. What a wonderful coincidence.
Alex is good at his job, I suppose, and he’s extremely smart — a characteristic that viewers learn because Alex talks fast and speaks in techy CIA jargon, but mostly because the show tells us that he’s smart rather than showing us; he is basically every suit-wearing character on a pun-filled USA series (Suits included) who has accidentally wandered into a NBC drama instead. Though, for all of his smarts, you’d think he would have figured out his parents’ pasts and the fact that his older sister is currently working as an active spy. Maybe he’s an idiot savant?
Whatever the case, Allegiance quickly turns into a familial — and familiar — spy vs. spy battle between Alex and his parents, with him investigating the parental O’Connors’ dormant sleeping cell and therefore sort of learning of his parents’ secret (but Katya manages to convince him that he’s drawing the wrong conclusions) and with the Russian SVR pressuring the O’Connors to recruit Alex for their side before he exposes them. To further complicate (and dramatize) matters, the SVR is launching “an operation that will bring America to its knees,” which is delivered with such sincerity it’s laughable.
Unfortunately, Allegiance doesn’t even work in the so-silly-it’s-fun-to-watch genre — it just thoroughly bores from beginning to end. There are a few unintentionally funny moments due to shoddy writing (a sample exchange between two agents: “I hate this time of year … It’s cold all the time.” “We are Russian. We are genetically adapted for that”) or some ridiculously clichéd spy scenes (in Allegiance, the spies do what spies do: conduct covert meetings on rooftops where they look over at the skyline while speaking in explicit non-code like “We’re going to double-cross [agent] tomorrow”).
But for the most part, the show is entirely uninteresting, which is baffling considering everything about the premise is so interesting. It’s such a sleepy series that I was only able to get through two of the three screeners sent to viewers, and my attention was wandering elsewhere even throughout those.
Perhaps Allegiance knows that, because the show jams in as much as it can (the normal sleeping with the enemy stuff) to try to up the momentum. Even the series music is distractingly desperate, practically yelling “Pay attention to me” and trying to force the viewer to stay awake even when everything on screen is putting them to sleep. The problem with Allegiance isn’t that it’s bad, exactly, but that it’s so dull and unimaginative, it only succeeds in making the case for watching The Americans instead.