January 02, 2014 6:36pm PT by Tim Goodman
Quick Take: Thoughts on 'The Assets' tonight on ABC
I almost decided against reviewing ABC's miniseries The Assets -- and this technically isn't a review more than some quickly gleaned advice -- because I knew it was going to come down to one of those cable vs. network takes. And that's become tiresome to me, mostly because I haven't seen any proof that the networks can compete on the same field.
I'm referencing The Americans on FX, of course, a Cold War spy story just like The Assets but infinitely better, although the latter is based on a book about real life spy Aldrich Ames while The Americans is fictional. Part of the reason I was going to pass is that the early parts of The Assets are heavy on cliche, plodding, lack much suspense and almost no forward motion. Secondly, it's not like ABC seems super committed to this thing because any new series premiering the second day of the new year with precious little promotion seems like a shoulder-shrug at best and a burn-off at worst.
The Assets is one of those shows where you look at the premiere calendar for 2014 and your mind starts spinning - "The Assets...hmmm....have I heard about this somewhere?...Is it really airing on the 2nd?" But I took an admittedly half hearted look at the early going of the eight-part miniseries just to see if maybe you should flip it on tonight to overcome some post New Year's doldrums. And?
Well, if you've seen The Americans then by all means skip this. If not, ask yourself a question: As a viewer, you are about to be inundated with new series (and tons of returning series) in January; are there eight weeks you've got to commit to this?
Besides, it's not like Aldrich Ames was a master spy. By all accounts, he was just damned lucky and the beneficiary of people not really paying attention. As played by Paul Rhys, he's like Walter White in the first four episodes (or less) of Breaking Bad. That is, he does not scream suave nor bad-ass. And the rudimentary "here's a bunch of secret files I'm giving you even though you can't really take the time to meet me in secret" adds to the problem. Ames seems uninportant in the CIA hierarchy. There's definitely a story about how Ames ruined the lives of a lot of people and got away with it for so long. But that story should center more on the people who screwed up than on Ames, who doesn't give off an ounce of intrigue (or compassion). He was a traitor. He can't be the central focus of the story and make us care. Sure, there's Jodie Whittaker as Sandy Grimes, a woman essential to his downfall (and co-author of the book the series is based on), but any attempt to flesh her home life out and give her depth screams out for Keri Russell of The Americans.
I tired of this pretty quickly because it seems like the ABC miniseries is going to tell the surface story -- there was a spy for the Russians who was bad and we caught him. It lacks the complications and nuance of The Americans. I hate to play that cable card again, but in this situation it can't be ignored.
But this is a just a quick take. If you invest yourself, your results may vary. And if they do, may I suggest catching up with The Americans to see what you're missing.