We gave it a C
Since the Central Intelligence Agency likes to work in secrecy, it makes perfect sense that The Agency would do the same: Airing Thursday at 10 p.m. on CBS, a time when the nation performs a titanic remote-control switchover from CSI to ER, The Agency has found the perfect hiding place to conduct its covert operations. So far, CBS has ordered a full season of the series starring Ally McBeal‘s Gil Bellows as an energetic, globe-trotting agent and Ronny Cox as his desk-bound but weary-looking boss. I guess the network figures it has nothing that’ll do better against ER, and that it’s good, in these troubled times, to have a strongly pro-government series on its schedule.
Unlike the season’s two other new CIA-themed shows, 24 and Alias, The Agency—created by Michael Frost Beckner and including the odd coupling of Wolfgang Petersen and Shaun Cassidy among the executive producers—is being made with the cooperation of the CIA. Yet this government-approved drama has already shown one agent, played by Paige Turco, manufacturing false documents to disguise her own employment at the Agency from her soon-to-be ex-husband.
Ironically, you’ll never see that sort of selfish underhandedness on what is possibly the most antigovernment series in television history, The X-Files, which these days is busy with babies and more cast changes than a hardcore conspiracy theorist could handle. Gone, with little explanation, is our beloved Fox Mulder (real-life reason: David Duchovny finally extricated himself from his old contract). Barely present is our beloved Dana Scully (real-life reason: Gillian Anderson is merely fulfilling the final season of her contract). Meanwhile, the guy who was supposed to fill Mulder’s fed-issued brogans, Agent John Doggett, has been relegated to lurking in the background (real-life reason: Beats me. Robert Patrick is as hard-boiled and effective as ever), and shoved to the forefront is Agent Monica Reyes (a ferocious yet lissome Annabeth Gish), who’s catching up on years of X-File mythology. As if the credits weren’t crowded enough, Cary Elwes, best known for his dashing role in the 1987 film The Princess Bride, has come aboard as an FBI investigator who once did some bed wrestling with Reyes but who now may be her enemy.
Where The Agency is so ripped-from-the-headlines that its episode about anthrax was postponed a couple of times lest it appear exploitive, The X-Files operates in what now seems like quaint territory, searching for alien invaders colluding with a government splinter group to control—oh, I dunno, does anyone besides creator Chris Carter?—the world, I presume.
But The X-Files still has a lot more action than The Agency, which too often lets technology take over. Cox, Bellows, Turco, and other good actors like Will Patton, ER‘s Gloria Reuben, Rocky Carroll (Chicago Hope), and thirtysomething‘s David Clennon (still dripping Miles Drentell disdain) stare at computer screens that spit out passports granting instant new identities, or that pinpoint the body-heat shapes of terrorists halfway around the globe. At the end of an hour, wry smiles are exchanged and Cox is likely to get a call to go visit an always-unseen President for congrats on a mission well-done.
In that context, The Agency is far more fairy-tale than The X-Files, whose atmosphere of free-floating anxiety jibes with this moment in history. Just as Scully isn’t sure whether her newborn child is infected with alien DNA, so do many of us fear infection by foreign spores. And unlike the CIA that almost always gets its man on The Agency, the man we most want to get in Afghanistan is as difficult to grasp as the solution to a thick, yellowing X-File, filled with a history of foreboding and death. The Agency: C The X-Files: B