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(Supposed to be) First Watch: CHAOS 

Photo Credit: Jason Bell/CBS

I say supposed to be because I actually watched the second episode, “Song of the North.” I couldn’t get all the way through the pilot, and that’s not a dig. I came into CHAOS blind, except for being extremely fond of the cast, especially Eric Close, who was last on CBS in the much-loved and surprisingly cancelled Without a Trace, and the beautiful James Murray, a Brit I found last year while marathoning Primeval (he was in the first two seasons). And the show was filmed in Vancouver, which, as y’all know, is a bonus for me.

So, I sat down to watch the pilot, only knowing that it was set in the CIA. That was about it. I assumed grit and intrigue and whatnot. But what I got was sweet and funny. So I was understandably confused. It’s in absolutely the right timeslot and day, if this were June. Judging but what I’ve seen so far, it feels like a show you could actually watch with your family, well suited to what was originally “the family hour,” but sort of weirdly paired during the school year with the gruesome CSI: NY and gritty Blue Bloods. And that’s an awful disservice to what could potentially be a success as a neat little show the family can watch.

The upcoming episodes may switch radically in tone, but my take on the half of the pilot and the complete second episode I saw, is that the show is about four basically decent CIA operatives who get ‘er done while being creative and funny. Each agent has a specific role: the swagger (Close), the flirt (Murray), the weapon (genius deadpan Tim Blake Nelson), and the newbie (Freddy Rodriguez).

We begin with the newbie, arriving at work on his first day with home-cooked soup from mom (your first clue), only to find himself mistakenly identified as a terrorist at the front gate due to computer glitch. Because it’s not that kind of show, he’s not shot on sight and the credits don’t roll. When he gets in the building, he finds out his job’s been redlined before he could even start, but he makes such a pitch about wanting to be an agent since childhood that he’s assigned to spy internally on one of the departments. He’s there about ten minutes before they catch on, but he proves himself a genuine CIA agent and they keep him.

The second episode was fairly innocuous given the subject matter, and a little tongue-in-cheek, even in the title. The team finds themselves going to North Korea to fetch the wife of an ambassador (Song) who took a nap during a UN meeting and essentially condemned his country and himself when he woke up to applaud South Korea. We don’t get overly political or messy, except for the general understanding that this is bad for his wife, who’s still at home, so they go to North Korea as filmmakers. When they tell her everything, she comes around to being defected, but she also brings along her sister’s family. The guys do the right thing and drive all of them to China to get everyone out safely. Shots are fired, but we never see blood or bullets make contact, and one of the border guards joins the defection. I know!

It was a refreshingly innocent hour of TV. It’s satirical in its own way without too much edge on it — the senator who nearly torpedoes everything is duplicitous  (the always welcome Currie Graham) and the head of Clandestine Administration and Oversight Services (CHAOS of the title) is sort of nonplussed about matters of life or death (the delicious Kurtwood Smith).

CBS ordered 13 episodes. I hope, because of the pedigree and the sweet nature, that they all air. If I had to put my finger on a thematic cousin to it, I’d say the episodes of MASH that went straight up the middle, and Sue Thomas, F.B. Eye, a sweet gem of a family show about the Feeb that ran on PAX several years ago, and was also filmed in Canada.

I think I was mostly shocked that a show like this could still be made. It’s a lovely tonic for all the overblown gore and violence that’s so easy to find everywhere else on TV. I want folks to find it. I feel like CBS sort of dropped it into the schedule without a lot of press. I didn’t watch the NCAA coverage, so I hope they did advertise it there.

I’m going to go back and watch the pilot properly now. You can watch the first two episodes online at CBS. Please do! And tell a friend.

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