“You caught me having one of those ‘How the hell did I get here?’ moments,” says Sharon Stone’s Vice President Natalie Maccabee, early in the pilot episode of TNT’s clunky new drama Agent X.
You may be asking the same question of the Oscar-nominated actress — as well as your own couch-bound self — if you endure the back-to-back installments that TNT will air Sunday at 9/8c.
Here’s the series’ setup: On her first day in office, Natalie learns (via secret key that opens a hidden passageway in her study) — that a big part of her job is to serve as the nation’s “crisis manager” in times where “judicious disregard for accepted legal formalities” is required. In other words, with the help of her tech-whiz/operations expert butler Malcolm (Gerald McRaney, Longmire) and a single, deadly operative John Case (Chicago Fire‘s dashing Jeff Hephner), the veep runs off-the-books missions against domestic and foreign enemies where the CIA and FBI can’t legally tread, all while giving POTUS the plausible deniability he needs.
(Did I mention that James Earl Jones, playing the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, is privy to the existence of this secret government offshoot, too? He nibbles Girl Scout cookies while menacingly noting that the Veep needs to bury any internal political hatchets into the backs of the nation’s real enemies. Oy!)
So, yeah, premise is silly — but potentially fun. The real problem with Agent X is its leaden execution and groan-inducing gaps in logic. The pilot episode’s big payoff finds John attempting to rescue the FBI director’s kidnapped daughter, who’s being held in the no-go construction site of the future Russian embassy. But it’s all so sluggishly paced and predictable, your biggest spike in pulse will probably come from scrambling for the remote to mute the hostage’s incredibly annoying screams.
Hour 2 relegates Stone to supporting player, as John and arms dealer/chaos broker/erstwhile circus contortionist (no joke) Olga (Olga Fond) improbably pair up to make sexy smalltalk and stop the auction of nuclear weapons. Plot holes appear more rapidly than bullet holes from the automatic weapons fired pell-mell throughout the abandoned Chechen bunker where dinner guests “Ooh!” and clap. (They’re excited to see the Big Bad whip a sheet off the warheads like he’s presenting a Showcase Showdown on The Price Is Right.)
Just a small percentage of Agent X’s doozies, for your perusal: Why would the FBI leave a crucial piece of evidence (a grainy pic that could identify John as a ghost agent) on a low-level technician’s cubicle computer — and then leave the room entirely empty on account of some kind of training exercise? How does Olga casually stroll out of some FBI detention facility after disposing of no more than a half-dozen agents? Is it because she’s covered her prison orange with one of their stolen, oversized suits? Why does John mispronounce “nuclear” as “new-cue-lar”? How do Natalie and Malcolm get from the Veep’s residence to John’s Library of Congress bunker so quickly? (My colleague Matt Mitovich estimates the water-dripping tunnels connecting the buildings would be some five miles long.) What is the purpose of having a physicist-gone-bad shout “There’s no need to panic!” (twice) to the auction buyers after a grenade explodes some 100 feet away from them? Why the hell are Natalie and Malcolm driving past the FBI director’s house at the exact moment he’s reunited with his daughter (when they’re not supposed to have anything to do with said mission)? Should TNT promote a drinking game in which we take a shot every time Olga disarms an opponent using the power of her shapely thighs?
Stone’s Maccabee is given a hint of a backstory in which her husband was killed in a fiery car crash in the not-too-distant past — and her nightmares of the fateful night show us the actress’s limitations when it comes to conveying sleeping panic and that There’s More to the Story (since her ill-fated spouse is played by Kyle Secor).
It seems unlikely that Agent X will survive long enough to offer definitive answers about the veep’s past. Like his character singlehandedly doing the veep’s bidding, the weight of the enterprise actually lands on Hephner’s broad shoulders, but dubious writing and direction look like they’ll make this a Mission: Impossible.
The TVLine Bottom Line: Undeniable implausibility sinks Stone’s play for a TV hit.