Agent X Review: I Spy a Stone-Cold Flop

grade_C-“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.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Ellinas1978 says:

    I would say I would give it a shot, except that it seems you spoiled pretty much everything. We get it, you don’t like it, but why go the extra mile and go into so much detail deterring people from watching it to make up their own minds?

    • Guest says:

      If a potential viewer is deterred by a review that they chose to read on (presumably) their own will, it doesn’t look like they planned on making up their own minds to begin with.

      • Ellinas1978 says:

        Reading a review of a show is different than reading a recap of the show AFTER it airs. This has more details than some of the recaps that appear on this website.

        • tvjunkie says:

          I also thought this was far more recap than review

        • NotAnselAdams says:

          Guest’s point is still valid — if you are so easily swayed away from watching a TV show after reading a single article, and your decision was made FOR you after reading such an article … the likelihood of you becoming a fan was near zero at best, unless you were ordered (via an article?) to become one.

    • Kate says:

      I agree with you. A “review” isn’t a recap. The article should at least warn viewers that there are spoilers within the article, so read at your own risk. This is the second review I’ve read here at TV Line that spoiled the entire episode for me. I think I’ll avoid anymore “reviews” on this site.

    • suzyku says:

      This reviewer is kind of a jerk!

  2. Will says:

    Finally, TVLine isn’t afraid to bash on a show.

    • m3rcnate says:

      Yeah, but it has me curious, why haven’t they been this honest about other garbage shows that should get a C- grade at BEST. ie “The Player”. All previous “reviews” if you want to call them that have always felt more like paid ads, where they don’t actually give a straight up honest opinion on if the show is good or not, but this review isn’t like that, and I am glad to see it. Keep the future reviews in this vein please.
      When I can comment on the pilot trailers and basically call out which will get cancelled and with a 80%+ accuracy rate end up being correct, i’d like to see this site do the same (at the end of a pilot review say if you think this show will be a hit or flop, how quickly it will probably get cancelled, etc).
      I am not taking the risks I used to with TV shows, network TV (and cable sometimes) are so quick to pull the trigger and axe a show that they begged us to watch (spending hours of my life i can’t get back watching) and then give no closure, not telling us what would have happened or how it would have ended. So I am pretty much done watching pilots or shows in their first season on network TV. Die network TV die, and please come modern entertainment, ie Netflix and Hulu and HBO and networks that support their fans and give their fans good closure.

  3. HistFic4Evah says:

    I enjoyed the preview and the idea makes for fun possibilities, especially if the series explores past agents and veeps. What? I like historical fiction. To that end, it might work better as a book series than TV.

  4. AM68 says:

    This is the dumbest premise ever. I literally said out loud, “Who came up with this?!” while reading it .

    • I think you did something wrong … you’re supposed to watch TV shows, not read them. ;)

      That being said … it was a pretty silly premise.

    • suzyku says:

      Don’t judge this show on the reviewer because IMO he’s totally wrong! Show was very entertaining, fast paced and action packed! Forget this guy and try it for yourself.

  5. lululime says:

    I loved Jeff on Chicago Fire, I think he left abruptly to do this. I’ll give it a chance.

  6. christopher bee says:

    Saw the Preview, it was terrible. What a waste of talented actors.

  7. mike says:

    I was gonna set my other dvr but now I think I’ll just wait for it come to Netflix. Already got enough lame, badly written shows to watch this season. (I.e Castle)

  8. rubytu says:

    Just knowing Sharon Stone is in it, and not playing a grandmother, makes me cringe.

  9. …and why does the newsarticle shown on a tablet in Episode 1 reads: “A New Soviet Embassy to Open…”??? Didn’t the show’s creators got the memo about the Soviet Union’s dissolution 23 years ago?

  10. Jay says:

    When Sharon stones mtg with James earl jones takes place she addresses him as judge. If you address a a member of the Supreme Court the correct way would be Justice, Mr. Or Madam Justice not Judge .

  11. danoregon says:

    One of those shows I had to watch because of the poor reviews. Such a weird show. Fantastic cast (hell, they could have rebooted The West Wing with it) doing such goofy stuff. And the agent/action stuff seems like it should be in a different show altogether.
    I imagine though this is the kind of show that could pay for itself in foreign distribution.

  12. suzyku says:

    Totally disagree with this reviewer! We thoroughly enjoyed Agent X, wonderful escape show, full of action and interesting story line. It sure beats all of the stupid reality shows that take over t.v. these days and a lot better than the Librarian series or Royal Pains. Don’t listen to this person, try it for yourselves and I’ll bet you’ll like it, too!

  13. Am I the only one who noticed that in the pilot episode one of the bad guys’ shoulder wound switched shoulders? How did both continuity and post production miss that?

  14. Lila says:

    I enjoyed this show very much. John is more down to earth and a normal man unlike Bond. While he is highly trained, he’s also lucky though not conceited. I really wish they had not cancelled this show.

  15. Richard Williams says:

    If you guys keep canning shows that actually make people want to set the DVR so they don’t miss an episode, you’re going to kill TV.We’re tired of stupid shows like The Big Bang Theory parading stupidity as comedy.There’s nothing to watch anymore except COP shows with beautiful skinny female officers trying to make us believe they can take on 250 lb male crazies and arrest them.I know there’s nothing left but resurrect old ideas from shows 50 years old.Your work is cut out for you,but seriously, give a show a little chance before you can it.