TV Review: Plodding ABC drama runs short on 'Assets'


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Perhaps seeking to capitalize on the critical love and Internet buzz for FX's "The Americans," ABC offers "The Assets" (10 tonight, WTAE), a bland imitation, albeit one rooted in a real-life story.

This eight-part weekly miniseries is based on the 2012 book "Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed" by Sandy Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille. Ms. Grimes is portrayed by British actress Jodie Whittaker as the hero of "The Assets."

'The Assets'
When: 10 tonight.
Starring: Paul Rhys, Jodie Whittaker.

While "The Americans" offers a fictional story of Soviet spies in the U.S. in the 1980s and improbably gets viewers to cheer for both the Russians and the Americans, "The Assets" is strictly bound by tired, predictable good American/evil Soviet characterizations.

Beyond thematic similarities to "The Americans," "The Assets" even tries to ape the FX series' theme song, although it turns out far less stylish.

None of this imitation would matter if "The Assets" could stand on its own, but it comes across as a rather dull, ineptly produced program that looks like it was filmed with dated technology in plodding style.

The series begins with sweaty, creepy nerd Ames (Paul Rhys, sporting a Hitler-style mustache just in case viewers miss the "I'm the Villain" vibe) nervously awaiting a meeting with his Soviet contact.

Ms. Grimes juggles her work/life balance in the most cliched way imaginable: by snapping at her teen daughter after a bad day at the office.

At the end of tonight's premiere, Ms. Grimes and her CIA bosses know there's a mole within the organization, but they don't know who it is. Episode two sets up the possibility that Ames will be unmasked by a KGB turncoat, but with six hours left to go, it seems unlikely that will happen so soon.

It's not clear from press notes where "The Assets" was filmed, but its rudimentary look and pace -- lots of scenes of people walking to and fro -- suggests somewhere in Europe about 20 years ago. Maybe the book the series is based on is a page-turner, but you'd never know it from watching the TV show.

While it's always welcome to see a network take chances on a period series that's not another lawyer/doctor/cop show, for such efforts to merit praise, they need to turn out well. "The Assets" just seems like a shoddy, short-term, inexpensive placeholder.

On the Web:

A new season of NBC's "Community" kicks off tonight. Read about it in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv.


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