All politics is personal in the taut new NBC spy drama “Allegiance,” which premieres Thursday night at 10.
If you think your family has issues, consider the O’Connors.
Mother Katya O’Connor (Hope Davis) is a former KGB agent who was allowed to marry her American engineer husband Mark (Scott Cohen) — she was supposed to be recruiting him — on the contingency that she continue to spy for Mother Russia. Mark works on government defense contracts and has essentially been committing treason for love ever since.
After several dormant, espionage-free years, Katya and Mark are devastated to discover that the new version of the KGB — now known as the SVR — wants them to punch back in to keep tabs on their own son Alex (Gavin Stenhouse). He’s fast becoming a star rookie analyst for the CIA and has been tasked with untangling a catastrophic Russian plot against the United States that — whoops! — now involves mom and dad and could trigger a new Cold War. Unlike Alex, eldest daughter Natalie (Margarita Levieva) has always been aware of and involved with her parents’ spy game and has a messy romantic involvement with a handler. Youngest daughter Sarah (Alex Peters) is flunking math. Thanksgiving is clearly going to be awkward.
Based on an Israeli drama and adapted for US television by George Nolfi (“The Adjustment Bureau,” “The Bourne Ultimatum”), “Allegiance” shows a lot of promise, especially given how deftly the cat (and cat and cat) and mouse game is played. Despite all the secrets, lies, double-, and even triple-crosses going on in the first three, increasingly entertaining episodes, it’s not too difficult to keep track of the game and where the players are on the board.
The terrific stage and film actress Davis particularly excels here playing a highly conflicted character. Katya wants to protect her family and adopted country but also — after several years of correcting homework and baking pies — might just be relishing a bit her return to the life of a ruthlessly efficient and resourceful spy. Veteran character actor Cohen — strong in everything from “NYPD Blue” to “Gilmore Girls” — is a good match, and the pair have a crackling chemistry. There is a moment in the very tense third episode where, in the midst of a high-stakes heist, they briefly give each other the comical side-eye of the long married. It’s an interesting tonal balance they’re able to achieve; the show’s creators would be wise to feed those abilities.
Stenhouse, a Brit ably tackling an American accent, is equally strong as Alex, who, it is implied, has an eidetic memory. He’s fumbling his way through the interpersonal aspects of his new position but acing the analysis.
Saddled with the toughest character, Levieva is much stronger here than on “Revenge,” and she’s also able to speak in her native tongue, as the characters toggle between Russian (with subtitles) and English.
While “Allegiance” covers some of the same ground as both FX’s excellent period drama “The Americans” and Showtime’s resurgent “Homeland,” Nolfi and crew do a good job, particularly within the constraints of a broadcast network, differentiating their show’s mission.
The central premise feels much more like a launching pad for a miniseries or “limited event” run, but if the creative team can maintain the quality of the first few episodes, they might find viewers declaring their loyalty to “Allegiance.”