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NBC’s new espionage drama Allegiance has already drawn comparisons to FX’s Cold War era series The Americans over the Soviet spies living among us and being forced to recruit their offspring premise. Yet the more apposite comparison is to the Israeli show The Gordin Cell, the acquired format from which Allegiance originated.
Tedy Productions’ The Gordin Cell, distributed internationally by Israeli TV giant Keshet International as MICE (an acronym for money, ideology, coercion and ego), premiered three years ago on local satellite TV provider Yes to universal critical acclaim. A second season recently concluded locally. Critics hailed the spy drama as feeling and looking “American,” with news of the hit show being piloted by NBC coming as early as September 2012 — with Peter Berg then attached to write and direct the pilot.
News that NBC would adapt Gordin for U.S. audiences came shortly before the season two premiere of Showtime’s Homeland, adapted from Keshet’s Prisoners of War, but Allegiance took time to develop domestically. Though Homeland quickly became a vastly different show than Prisoners of War despite a similar initial premise, the latest Israel-to-U.S. venture on NBC seems to stick more closely to the original show’s core characters and story — albeit somewhat lost in translation.
Read more Allegiance: TV Review
There are a few stand-out distinctions: While the O’Connors — the family at the center of Allegiance — have a younger daughter that does not exist in the original, the Gordin’s household includes the maternal grandmother, a former agent that comes into supporting play. Also, the parental dynamic is much more volatile in Gordin as the mother’s ferocious nature sees her emasculating her husband. But most importantly, the family secret is drawn out in Gordin and is accidently exposed halfway through the first season, leaving no room for deception, unlike the brewing confrontation set up in Allegiance early on in different circumstances as the family tension slowly escalates.
While Allegiance unfolds the story in numerous realms — the family drama, the Soviet operators and the young protagonist’s CIA work — it might have benefited from using two additional aspects that are used in The Gordin Cell. The series starts with an overall investigation conducted by two government officers, hence a separation between the CIA, supposed equivalent of the son’s army work, and the FBI. This allows another sphere of continuous mystery not reliant on the protagonist’s secret mission.
What’s more, Gordin starts off with the main protagonist in a fragile state following a false assumption that he was the hero of an army operation, and details how the stress affects him in his newly found romance, with his girlfriend later unwillingly entangled into the season one storyline. This allows for better understanding of the character and the state he’s in at a time where he is being recruited by both sides of the equation, while allowing viewers to go deeper into the character’s physical and mental scars. Allegiance‘s Alex is thought of as the CIA’s latest boy wonder, who rises to the occasion of the agency’s top brass, perhaps more on par with NBC’s The Blacklist‘s Liz Keen than his Israeli counterpart.
But the most vital difference between the two versions is in the origin story. The Gordin Cell inherently relies on Israeli cultural facts crucial to its premise: Israel’s population consists of 14 percent former USSR immigrants who came in the early 1990s, and the fact that the young protagonist is in the army, which is mandatory for Israeli citizens. Those ensure credibility for the viewer that the dreaded SVR spy cells might actually exist and that getting into the state’s frontline is conceivable. On those accounts, Allegiance simply falls short.
Allegiance, which has drawn mixed reviews, airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on NBC, beginning Feb. 5.
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