Feb 11, 2012

Tradecraft: More Directors Board Spy Pilots

Earlier this week, Brett Ratner signed on to direct Fox's untitled teen spy pilot from Karyn Usher. Today, Deadline reports that feature directors Gavin O'Connor (Warrior, Miracle) and Neil Burger (Limitless, The Illusionist) will also helm spy pilots this season. According to the trade blog, O'Connor will direct The Americans for FX, and Burger will direct Fox's The Asset.

The Americans, first reported on back in December, is one of two spy scripts currently in pilot contention penned by Joseph Weisberg... which just happen to be the two spy shows in development that I'm most excited about and hopeful for. Weisberg himself is a former CIA officer turned writer, and author of the espionage novel An Ordinary Spy. His other show is that drama following assistants at various agencies in the Intelligence Community that Paul Greengrass is attached to produce and possibly direct. The Americans is a 1980s-set Cold War period piece that sounds positively fascinating. Newly relevant again after the 2010 bust of the Anna Chapman spy ring (so known because she was the hot redhead, not because she was the mastermind), it's about two KGB spies living as husband and wife in a Washington suburb. Here's how Deadline described it:
The arranged marriage of Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings grows more passionate and genuine by the day but is constantly tested by the escalation of the Cold War and the intimate, dangerous and darkly funny relationships they must maintain with a network of spies and informants under their control. Complicating their relationship further is Phillip’s growing sense of affinity for America’s values and way of life and the couple’s two children, who know nothing about their parents’ true identity.
That sounds positively fascinating to me. I really, really hope that O'Connor nails the pilot and FX picks it up. Incidentally, Weisberg is not the only name that might be familiar to spy geeks on this project. It's produced by Graham Yost, who today is probably most famous as the showrunner of FX's terrific neo-Western Justified. But to me, as a spy fan who came of age in the late 80s/early 90s, he'll always be the author of Spy-Tech, a kid-friendly non-fiction resource about the real-life tools of the spy trade, which I had on near-constant loan from the Waterford Library. (Eventually I got a copy of my very own, which I'm pretty sure is kicking around my LA apartment somewhere. I should dig it up.)

The Asset is more of a mystery as far as the information that's been put out there so far. According to its official, trade-quoted log line, it's "a character-driven drama set in the New York office of the CIA, which centers on a female agent." As I noted when I first reported on it last August, there's nothing in that description to differentiate the this show from countless others, most notably Alias and Covert Affairs. However, I recently read the script for the pilot by Josh Friedman (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), and those comparisons sell it short. While the first act is shockingly similar to the Covert Affairs pilot (from the female agent's mysterious former boyfriend right down to the polygraph test), The Asset is actually a closer cousin to Homeland. Its protagonist, globetrotting photographer-cum-spy Anna King (usually known just as "King") shares a lot of issues, not to mention a 9/11 connection, with that show's Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes). But the twist I was wondering about, the thing that sets it apart from Alias and Covert Affairs, is not an easy one to express in a succinct log line, which is probably why we haven't heard it yet. Put simply, The Asset goes where those shows always stop short. While Jennifer Garner's Sydney Bristow certainly used her sexuality a lot on missions, that was usually limited to modelling bikinis and lingerie. Once the target was put off his guard by the vision of her in a teddy, she would knock him out and steal his microchip. King, however, is a slightly more realistic character who... goes that extra step. The Asset explores the psychology of a woman who sleeps with strange men for her country, her complicated emotions about that, and why she does it. We'll see if this bit makes it to the network broadcast, but in the script she's also bisexual. It's rare that we see female spies in popular culture (good ones, that is) allowed to sleep around as much as their male counterparts (Salt, for instance, was practically a neuter), let alone see that subject explored in an adult manner. I just have to wonder how this will all work for a network like Fox. It seems thematically better suited to cable. I'm certainly rooting for Burger to pull it off, though, because it's a solid spy script and I'd like to see where this series goes.


Armstrong Sabian said...

I'm not feeling very sharp today. Read the phrase "spy pilots," and couldn't think of anything besides Gary Powers.

Tanner said...

I think that sometimes when I'm typing it, too.