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NBC's spy-driven Allegiance brings The Americans to mind


CIA analyst Alex O’Connor (center) still doesn’t know that mom and pop are Russian spies. But his older sis does in Allegiance. NBC photo

Premiering: Thursday, Feb. 5th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Gavin Stenhouse, Hope Davis, Scott Cohen, Margarita Levieva, Alex Peters, Morgan Spector, Floriana Lima, Kenneth Choi
Produced by: George Nolfi, John Glenn, Rashad Raisani, Avi Nir, Ron Leshem, Amit Cohen, Giyora Yahalom, Yona Weisenthal

Set in present times, with the oldest daughter already a groomed Russian spy, NBC’s new Allegiance isn’t entirely a knockoff of FX’s The Americans.

Even so, you can’t mention one show without including the other. Allegiance, airing after The Blacklist as part of NBC’s big new Thursday night plans, likewise is set in the U.S., fueled by familial intrigue and full of narrow cloak-and-dagger escapes in the first three episodes made available for review. It moves along briskly, sometimes feverishly. And it’s fairly easy to get immersed in the intrigue while at the same time finding it hard to play along with all the dubious twists, turns and deductions.

Katya and Mark O’Connor (Hope Davis, Scott Cohen) are the long-deactivated spies. She recruited him as a KGB spy before they fell in love, married and remained assets to be called upon when needed. Time passed, births ensued. Lush oldest daughter Natalia (Margarita Levieva) was brought into the spy fold. But only son Alex (Gavin Stenhouse) and youngest daughter Sarah (Alex Peters) haven’t a clue.

Alex has gone on to become a whiz kid CIA analyst with a photographic memory and Sherlock Holmes-ish abilities to un-puzzle things. His parents, who thought they were scot free of Moscow after years of everyday American life, instead are suddenly pulled back in again.

A secret SVR operation (KGB is now so Cold War-ish) dubbed Black Dagger is designed to “bring America to its knees.” But there are complications. A traitor who has stolen thousands of secret files is fed into a blast furnace as punishment. But now those incriminating files must be found. This is where Katya and Mark come in. They’re tasked with turning the idealistic Alex into a spy but instead convince SVR kingpins that it would be more valuable to spy on him and the CIA.

“The stakes for all of us really couldn’t be higher. Trust me,” says seemingly sinister Russian go-between Victor Dobrynin (Morgan Spector), who’s still having an affair with oldest daughter Natalia. “Why can’t I stay away from you?” she wonders.

At the end of Thursday’s premiere episode, Alex appears to have figured out who his parents really are. But mom has another trick up her sleeve, leaving her son devastated in a different way.

At the workplace, Alex also has a gruff but increasingly supportive CIA boss named Sam Luttrell (Kenneth Choi). He also eventually gets to partner with Michelle Prado (Floriana Lima), who puts business before pleasure -- for now.

In a ridiculous scene near the end of Episode 3, Michelle, Alex and the rest of their team strip down in the middle of an operation in order to get into their action uniforms. This enables Alex to get a look at Michelle in her black bra and panties. She seems to enjoy his interest before everyone springs back into mission: impossible mode.

The best performance so far is by Hope Davis as Katya. She’s no-nonsense but still motherly, vowing not to let the Russian spy force “have another one of our children.”

Unlike The Americans, no one wears disguises so far in Allegiance, which places a premium on episode-ending cliffhangers. The soundtrack becomes especially frenzied in Episode 3 during a two-way race for the secret files. Even though someone now has their hands on them, they’re still up for grabs by the end of the hour.

Allegiance may have enough pulling power to keep viewers hanging on after The Blacklist dangles more plot threads. Its lead characters for the most part are appealing and accessible, even if their machinations aren’t always well-oiled. The producers -- and there are eight of them -- will be challenged to keep everything on track and at least halfway plausible. The first three hours have ample verve and drive -- which helps to offset some of those cumbersome plot/counterplot pitfalls.

GRADE: B-minus

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