'Agent X': TV Review

James Dittiger/TNT
So bad it's (almost) good.
11/8/2015

Sharon Stone's new TNT drama is hilarious, but was that intentional? In any case, if you like crazy and implausible, 'X' marks the spot.

Despite some of the pain it caused me, Agent X also provided, in the same package, a salve. The backstory: Five days before reviewing TNT’s new spy/whatever drama, I tweaked my back and was barely walking around. By the fifth day, it was mostly better, thanks to loads of Advil. Then I watched the first hour of Agent X and laughed so hard I hurt myself again.

But I kept watching — and laughing — and realized Agent X could bring a lot of pleasure on a weekly basis as I create the inevitable Agent X Drinking Game. Anyway, the point is, you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying.

I should mention is that Agent X is not supposed to be a comedy. It’s a drama. TNT had a chance to get out in front of this thing and claim it as a spoof, but apparently that didn’t occur to them. So unfortunately Agent X remains an intentional drama, one that is insanely but deliciously bad. Hilariously bad.

It's hard to explain the premise alone without laughing. Let’s try: Agent X is about how newly elected vice president Sharon Stone (her show name is Natalie Maccabee but that’s only half as funny) finds out from an Alfred-like butler at the vice president’s residence "the greatest secret in the history of our country."

The secret is that the “real” Constitution (kept secret from everyone) – follow along! – contains a fifth section to article two, not just four sections like everybody thinks (meaning everybody who knows the Constitution, which in this country is basically nobody). Anyway, the secret fifth section states this (you might want to sit down): "An agent of unknown identity is hereby authorized to serve at the discretion of the vice president for the purpose of aiding the Republic in times of dire peril."

Yep.

As the vice president, Stone reacts with a faux stunned look. As it should be. The vice president is now capable of sending out an American James Bond to do black ops work. Who the hell wouldn’t be both stunned and excited? The camera cuts back to Stone again and, yes, she's still shocked. Or then again, she may have been thinking, "I’ve made a huge mistake."

Here’s the thing you need to know about the Agent X Drinking Game I have in the works: Most of the drinking will be based on reaction shots, since Agent X has quadruple the amount of close-ups of faces reflecting surprise, disdain, disappointment and often just blankness — of any other drama on TV. Think Leslie Nielsen in Police Squad!

Stone’s presence on Agent X is odd. Yes, she’s an executive producer but that she, or any number of the actors on this show, agreed to be on this series is kind of baffling. They all deserve better material. She should have held out for something on HBO or Showtime, since her role here is basically to play second fiddle to the actual agent in the title, ruggedly handsome John Case (Jeff Hephner).

In the first two hours — which TNT will run together on Nov. 8 — Stone’s role is to compile as many patently unbelievable reaction shots as possible. Every now and then she gets an actual scene. Mostly they have her saying dumb stuff like, upon opening the secret Freemasons-like cave door of the Residence, "Tell me this is a wine cellar." And then seeing the underground Batman-esque lair, she says very slowly, "Shut...the...front...door." Later, watching from the lair as Agent Case’s button camera reveals all of his terrible fighting scenes, she says, "Holy Toledo."

Yep.

Gerald McRaney plays Malcolm Millar, chief steward of the vice president’s residence, aka Batman’s Alfred. McRaney is basically the only one who gets out alive here, acting-wise. Even James Earl Jones, who plays the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, can’t make this material work (and yes, the Chief Justice knows about and upholds the mysterious Article Two, Section Five powers even though the American people don’t know it exists — he reminds the vice president that she must never, ever mention her secret powers act to anyone).

Created and written by William Blake Herron, with tons of other exec producers tossed in to muddle the vision, Agent X is one of those show you can’t believe is on TV. The writing is terrible, the action scenes are hysterically bad and it feels like a show that was kept in a vault from the early 1980s and then put on TNT.

That said, wow, what a gift. Agent X never stops being funny. Laugh out loud funny, too — and what freshman sitcom this season can claim that?

From the National Treasure-esque backstory to the painfully funny plethora of reaction shots (drink!), to all the accents of the bad guys weaving from, say, Russia to the Bronx in the same scene, to the stagey and side-splitting "action" scenes, there is much to love here.

Take note:

• As Stone tours the Freemasons-friendly underground command center, she comes upon a sign on a door, which looks like the prop department whipped it up a few minutes earlier. It reads: "I Hearby Swear To Protect the Secrets That Dwell Beyond." Oh God yes, more of that please in future episodes.

• Jamey Sheridan plays the director of the FBI and when his daughter is kidnapped by terrorists and she sends him a video, she says that they will "shoot me on the spot" if need be. However, you’ll know this to be untrue because the bad guys in Agent X are — and this takes some doing — the worst marksmen in all of television. And when they have the chance to pull the trigger they first go into what The Incredibles spoofed as "monologuing" — long passages that let the good guys arrive or the person with the gun to their head ample time to spin around and punch them, often knocking the would-be shooter out with single punch.

• The female Russian spy in the pilot has an important back story: She was a circus performer first, then recruited to be a killer. "I know something you don’t," she tells an FBI interrogator, while chained to a table. "I’m double-jointed." She then flips over and uses her lovely legs to get him in a head lock and choke him out. Fear not, she will do this two or three more times in the pilot. Those legs are dangerous — you’re almost so distracted by them that you miss her accent coming and going every third word. Almost.

• Because Stone’s powers as vice president are so secret, the few people who know of them can’t actually mention them to her when it’s clear she needs to act. She has to — slowly, very slowly — come to that realization. Like this: "I got it. This is my job." And as you nod your head, she keeps talking: "It’s my decision to make. Alone." Yes! Just make the call!

• In one scene, Agent Case realizes things have gone sideways so he relays a message back to the vice presidential bunker: "It means we go ugly." Stone: "What does that mean?" McRaney/Alfred: "Judicious disregard for accepted legal formalities." You: Oh my god I love this show (glug, glug, glug).

• McRaney should get some kind of award for remaining straight-faced through all of this. His skillset includes tech wizardry of the most hilarious kind — meaning he just taps a bunch of buttons and overrides everybody else’s equipment, like in a scene where Agent Case is rescuing the FBI director’s daughter: "We just downloaded a back door to their security system. We own it now. Turning off all recording. Erasing their hard drives. You never existed, John."

It’s magic!

And if you thought that was awesomely ridiculous, wait until he walks into the CIA on a tour with other civilians, slips into their tech area (basically a one-man cubicle by the window, for budgetary reasons) poses as a high-ranking figure the tech guy has never seen before and, needing to install malware on the CIAs computer, says this: "Plug this in." Tech guy: "What’s that?" McRaney/Alfred: "It will help us track down whoever has been using your password." AND THE TECH GUYS PLUGS IT IN.

• Lest we forget the unfailingly lame dialog: The sexy leg-crushing Russian is on a train with Agent Case, two highly trained operatives who are wary of each other but also kind of attracted to each other. She’s using her smarts as a profiler: "You weren’t born a killer. (Pause.) You were made one. Oh, and you put on a good front, but sometimes you give yourself away. Do you want to know how?" Him: “I want to go to bed." Her: "Your eyes are soft sometimes. That’s how I know you weren’t born a killer." You: Oh, hell yes – season pass on the DVR!

There are more hokey shenanigans but you get the point. Agent X is shockingly poor in all quadrants — writing, directing, acting (not always the fault of the actors) — the entire production looks like it was made up on the fly with producers pulling $20 out of their wallet to fix whatever problems arise. Again, TNT had a chance to get out in front of this thing and steer the damage, but didn’t.

We all win because of that.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine

 

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