Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Assets - My Name is Aldrich Ames

Set during the early 1980's, and based on the true story of the CIA analyst Aldrich Ames (Paul Rhys) who was eventually discovered to be a mole for the Soviet Union for the better part of the decade, ABC's new eight-episode mini-series begins with a compromised CIA money drop in Moscow where both the covert agent (Lex Shrapnel) and highly-placed asset (Peter Guinness) were captured.

Centered mostly around the office and home life of Sandra Grimes (Jodie Whittaker) whose asset was captured and killed in the operation, the opening episode alerts her to the fact of a much bigger problem in the CIA and her new assignment to find the leak inside the agency responsible for the loss of more assets that at any time during the history of the CIA.

The slow-paced spy sections of the show are mostly competent (except for the cliched line about how the job can wear on an agent), but Grimes' big discovery at the end of the episode has the problem of being neither compelling nor all that believable. Also troubling are the sequences between Grimes and her husband (Julian Ovenden) and daughter (Amelia Clarkson) which come close to laughingly bad while overflowing with generic sitcom plotlines and platitudes. And by revealing the identity of Ames as the mole in the mini-series opening scene there's also no sense of mystery or suspense to any member of the audience not familiar with the history of Ames or those just wanting to see the investigation unfold.

As Ames, who gets far too little air time compared to Grimes, Rhys highlights what is otherwise a mostly forgettable series of performances. The look of the 80's is well done without going too over the top (with the exception of Clarkson's Madonna makeover), and you can tell there is certainly some skill in front of and behind the camera. Given the show's abysmal ratings (it's actually the lowest network premiere since the creation of FOX) and the inconsistent writing, far too much focus on Grimes and her family, and not nearly enough of its biggest strength (Rhys), it seems possible the show may not make it through all eight episodes. And, given these inconsistencies, I'm not sure it deserves a chance to.

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