USA Network's new series "Cover Me: Based on the True Life of an FBI Family" is a great concept that suffers from wan execution.
Danny (Peter Dobson) works as an FBI agent and gets his wife, Barbara (Melora Hardin), and three kids involved in his undercover assignments. His 11-year-old son, Chance (Michael Angarano), narrates "Cover Me," a dark, ponderous series with fleeting moments of humor.
The show could be played as a fun action-adventure -- it's "Family of Spies"! -- but "Cover Me" opts for a more realistic approach with "Wonder Years"-esque narration.
"When I tell people about the way I grew up, they never believe me," an older, unseen Chance narrates. "They always think we should have rebelled or something. But does a kid born into a circus ask why he's being thrown from the trapeze? No. He just thinks it's normal."
Shaun Cassidy, former "Hardy Boy" and creator of the TV series "American Gothic," "Players" and
"Roar," created "Cover Me" and wrote Sunday's premiere. He acknowledges the far-fetched nature of the show (originally titled "Just Act Normal") but insists it's based on a real family (listed in the credits as Carolyn Brown Bannon, Laura Brown and Cory Patrick Brown).
"There is no family in the history of the FBI that's ever been on the payroll of the FBI," Cassidy said at the winter Television Critics Association press tour. "The father was an independent operative who worked for the FBI, the DEA, the Department of Justice. He'd gone to the Actor's Studio in New York to become an actor and was torn between being an actor and a cop, and he ultimately chose both professions."
In real life and on the show, the man's partner was killed and his family executed. He decided he could keep his family safer by keeping them closer, training them and using them to collect information.
In "Cover Me," Danny's teen-age daughters chat up the sons of mobsters to extricate information that could be useful in Dad's investigation. The family attends church, "not that Dad was religious; it was just a great place to meet criminals," Chance says.
Another scene shows the family -- whose car and attire make them look like the neighbors from "Leave it to Beaver" -- riding in Dad's convertible, when he suddenly orders the kids to describe a car that just passed them. It's a cute scene, like they're playing a highway game. Cassidy said he had a similar experience when he met the real family.
"I had dinner with the two kids, and before my credit card hit the table, they both read me the credit card number and expiration date," Cassidy said. "It wasn't something they were proud of, but they have a photographic memory. It was just pounded into them every day for better or worse."
In real life, the father in the family was killed in 1990 in the line of duty. His children are now in their 30s and 40s, Cassidy said.
But it's a bit disturbing to watch "Cover Me" and see children and teens put in dangerous circumstances. In Sunday's episode, Chance has to drive his father home after a mission goes awry.
Aside from the kids-in-jeopardy moments, "Cover Me" is boring. A future episode explores issues of fidelity between Danny and Barbara, but again, it's slow and uninteresting stuff.
ABC had a much better husband and wife spy show in the short-lived 1991 series "Under Cover." The show premiered just as the Gulf War broke out and its too-timely topics doomed it to a quick cancellation, but the show worked because it was both exciting and dramatic, exploring the moral dilemmas such careers bring to family life.
"Cover Me" should be a fun lighthearted adventure or a drama with depth. Instead it settles into the bland middle ground.