6 Fixes That Could Have Made ‘UnderCovers’ A Hit

The "sexpionage" series was pronounced dead by NBC last week. Here's how to bring it back to life.

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UnderCovers, starring Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, should have been a hit. It still can be.

After airing just seven episodes, NBC announced last Thursday that it’s pulling the plug on UnderCovers, the series starring Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as husband-and-wife spy team/restaurant owners Stephen and Samantha Bloom, pulled out of retirement by the CIA for special missions. This is a big disappointment for African American television viewers who had high hopes for the first hour-long series to star black actors in lead roles. Indeed, had UnderCovers been a hit, it could have opened the doors for more lead television roles for black actors.

NBC certainly did its part to lay the groundwork for the show to succeed, soliciting the support of black community influencers via previews and actor appearances at events such as the 2010 convention of the National Association of Black Journalists and the Black Enterprise Golf & Tennis Challenge. It also marshaled an aggressive social media campaign for UnderCovers on Twitter and Facebook, with Kodjoe doing a yeoman’s job of tweeting to fans of the show. (Follow Boris Kodjoe on Twitter.) Plus, the show had two attractive and likable stars in the lead roles. (Kodjoe has a huge and loyal female fan base; Mbatha-Raw is a talented actress and arguably one of the most beautiful women on television.) So why did it fail?

The truth is (and it kills me to say this), UnderCovers just isn’t very good. In fact, I couldn’t bear to watch a full episode of the series since the second episode, where the sad running “joke” was that world-class spy Stephen Bloom couldn’t work the coffee machine. (Why would he even care to try?) It’s not that the show doesn’t have its fans, judging from the outcry I hear–from people I know personally as well as those I’m connected with via social media–that the show is not getting a fair chance to succeed. However, the ratings indicate that UnderCovers‘ loyalists are being outvoted. After starting with a high of nearly 8.6 million viewers with the pilot episode, viewership fell to a low of 5.45 million by the sixth episode. UnderCovers hasn’t pulled more than 6 million viewers since the third episode.

I was one of the attendees at the NABJ convention in San Diego in the audience for a special preview of the first episode of UnderCovers. The fatal flaws I saw in the show then were only confirmed as I tried to commit to watching it as

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  • Dave Jordan

    I loved the premise. I didn’t like the execution. I’m old enough to remember the ABC series “Hart To Hart.” Watched it every tuesday night. But it was light & fizzy and that kind of programming doesn’t fly in a post-9/11 world. That said,  I really wanted “UnderCovers” to succeed and that’s why I tuned in each week. 

    • liz markus

      I loved the idea. There are a lot of detective shows but they don’t have the reach of Hart to Hart where they traveled and that was the intrigue of this show. Love the husband’s character and the computer geek, did not like the wife. She was distant and cold and it was very hard to relate to her. The former alcohol sister didn’t help. Loved the chefs.Loved the travel and the use of foreign languages.
      May be he will get on another show and I think he would be great but I thought she was not an asset to the show.

  • Mary B.

    I have only watched maybe three episodes all the way through. I’m not surprised the show was cancelled. Actually, I’m a bit surprised it lasted as long as it did. I didn’t like the fact that they made this couple comical. Why can’t the black spy couple be hardcore… like real spies? Think Alias. I didn’t like that their handler didn’t have any fact in them and forget the ex-lover spy that “dated” the wife previously. He’s silly and annoying.

    Kodjoe’s character needs to have a dark side–as you mentioned, like Jack Bauer. They don’t know much about each other’s past life as spies anyway,  so giving him a certain “darkness” would add to the intrigue. They need to add more suspense to the storylines. For a spy show, it is greatly lacking in suspense–always I find myself going to make tea or something in the middle and I don’t really care about the ending. I also agree, get rid of the sister or make her a spy too–but they have no idea that she was an operative too. 

  • Guess I’ll have to be the outlier here. I liked the series very much and never missed an episode. Call me crazy, but the last thing I want in a world that’s filled with danger is to watch more murder and mayhem on tv. That’s what I enjoyed about this series, it’s a fun romp, something that I can just relax and enjoy. 

    • Natalie

      I agree with Roslyn, I really enjoyed the show and found a refreshing change. I hope that another network picks them up.

  • I really liked the show and I’m disappointed that it won’t be returning. The comedy provided some relief from all these hardcore cop dramas. However, I also wonder if enough people actually took the time to watch it and get into it. There are tons of worse shows on tv that consistently get renewed year after year. This smells like another case of sabotage by our own people.

  • Calvin

    I liked the show. I enjoyed the premise. I also enjoyed the episodes I watched. I think the one thing that should change is the ex-boyfriend who continuously reminded Boris’ charachter of his previous relationship with the leading lady. That took away from the show. If Boris’ character had a dark side, it should have come out early in the series to get rid of the ex-boyfriend of his wife.

    • Alfred Edmond Jr.

      What got me is that Leo, the ex-boyfriend, bought up his past sexual relationship with Samantha IN FRONT OF HER and her husband, she let it ride as if it was no big deal! I can’t imagine any woman who loved her husband allowing a past lover to disrespect him (to say nothing of dissing her) like that without putting him in check WITH THE QUICKNESS! Not only is Leo’s “you’re just mad because I’ve had sex with your wife” schtick not funny, I found it insulting. The Stephen Bloom in my version of UnderCovers would never deal with that, and he’d be so feared/respected that Leo wouldn’t even go there.

      • Mary B.

        You are right about that Alfred… plus on top of that, the handler keeps reminding the Blooms that they are inadequate without Leo. That is so not funny. 

  • Leo

    The characters were very “sterile” and not relatable to me.  I was also disappointed that it was a “comedy”.  Last, there was something odd about the actress cast as Kodjoe’s wife…a strange, sterile choice.  

    I also found the “younger sister” to be strange and uninteresting.    

    • Lamont

      I couldn’t agree more. You put it succinctly.

    • liz markus

      Exactly. The two woman were not easy to relate to. Also, if they had had better writers that would have helped. It was the wrong mix of people. There was action like Burn Notice but the saving grace of that show is that the female lead Fiona is so cool and you can’t help like her as well as the mom. However, the cigarette smoking part doesn’t do anything for her character. Abrams had a good idea, but the writing and the female characters were off.

  • Mark

    I really wanted this show to succeed tuned in every week! I was tired of all the Tyler Perry themed BS (House of Payne, Browns) and wanted something different. The bottom line is basically the show was not that appealing. The actors were not right for the parts they were too wholesome. Boris is a decent actor but not a tough guy, the dude is not intimidating at all. With different actors and more intense story lines the show would have survived. Black people didn’t sabotage it just wasn’t good point blank.

    • Alfred Edmond Jr.

      Again, I think Kodjoe is well-suited for the role of Stephen Bloom, at least as I envision him. The fact that he doesn’t come off as a tough guy, that he is so affable, handsome and unintimidating, is part of what makes him so deadly. Kind of like a cobra that mesmorizes his victims, putting them in a trance with his looks and seemingly harmless and benign demeanor–just before he strikes.with deadly and terrifying efficiency. Man, I think Kodjoe would tear a role like that up! Just thinking about it has put a wide grin on my face!

    • Alfred Edmond Jr.

      I even have an idea for Bloom’s catchphrase just before he’s about to go head to head with another badass operative: with that patented, disarming Boris Kodjoe smile: “Bruh, you don’t want none of this.”

      • Mark

        Thanks for responding to my post Al and it’s great to blog with you! Regarding the show lets hope
        that one of the other networks will at least consider picking up the show or produce new shows
        featuring African Americans. What really got me excited about the show was the involvement of
        JJ Abrams the big hollywood producer/director who is responsible for LOST, MI3 and he also saved
        Star Trek with the movie from last year. The guy directed the pilot episode himself maybe JJ can
        find a new network for the show and revamp it… let’s hope

    • Lanette

      Please don’t cancel the show and please DON’T change the actors! Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie are proof that a spy can be handsome/beautiful and still be a force to reckon wth. And, by the way, I don’t recall Cruise using a “catch phrase” when he took on a foe. I think doing so would lose effectiveness and become more of a sterotype (after all, how many times did Martin refer to Pam as “beady b” or say “you go girl” before it grew old—for me, once was enough!). Enhance all the roles—including the supporting roles—with risky espionage missions, cut-throat deceit (but not between the main characters), danger, and cliff-hangers to give the show more depth. The catering business is a great cover (who would’ve thought?), but don’t rehash everything (e.g., the notion that they Bloom’s have agreed not to discuss their past, the partner once dated the wife, the mentee’s adoration for Bloom, the sister is a recovering alcoholic, etc.). Instead, make it a bit more edgey by adding more drama (e.g., 24 and Alias), suspense (the Event), clever masterminds (e.g. Oceans Eleven), unexpected twists (e.g., Mission Impossible) and unexpected endings (ala The Practice) WITHOUT blemishing your leads. As for the sex appeal, I love being able to see African-Americans in tastefully done sexy scenes. It’s not every day that we see ourselves portrayed in a positive light with the dept of being intelligent, strong, loving, successful and, yes, sexy. I also love the upscale lifestyle/home/business, worldwide destinations, and best of all, having characters that speak multiple languages, with profanity and ebonics not being one them! FINALLY! This is a step towards a modern day middle classAfrican American and away from the over-used hardened sterotypes generally relegated to Blacks! I don’t find it to be “unrelatable” or “sterile” at all. For me, it’s a good attemp at the lifestyle of operatives who happen to be African-American and whose lifestyle may not be exactly like mine, but, for one night each week, I get to live vicariously and experience their exciting exploits! More SMART shows with African- American actors PLEASE!!!!

      • pawgurl603

        Well said, I totally agree. Love the upscale, intelligent, multi-lingual agents. And, I could never ignore the opportunity to look at Boris every week. Episodes are still available to watch on the NBC website, but I don’t know for how long. Hope someone picks up this show.

  • Mark

    Well I hope they will release the show on Blu-ray/DVD! Wouldn’t mind having it as a collectors item.

  • Im highly DISAPPOINTED the bottom line is that there where two Black Stars on what this society calls a major network,and the powers that be can’t have that. I’m so Sick and Tired of seeing white face on Tv. I really loved seeing those gorgeous black faces in those kind of roles!

     Before this show I hardly ever watch television because we are so wiped out of it and when we do appear it’s for some sub-par role or some stereotypical one..wow and yet people still watch these nothing shows, every show on the CW is Garbage!
    Well, I guess i will finish reading my book…The mis-education of the Negro!  By Carter Woodson
    YES.. ..we are so miseducated if we can’t see this for what it is.

  • Lanette

    I am deeply disappointed to learn that NBC is canceling Undercovers. I (and my girlfriends) eagerly watched every week and was grateful for a smart show with black actors playing the leads. I love, love, love the fact that they are intelligent, multi-lingual, sexy, and fierce. While there is room for enhancement, I wouldn’t make it too dark and ugly to include the level of deceit and disfigurement that has been proposed. Rather, I would look to Alias, 24, James Bond and Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible, and even Commander-in-Chief for inspiration. I still want the charactes to be beautiful, smart, and likeable. Afterall, they represent the best image of African Americans on network television today. And, while they are African-Amercans, I like the fact that there isn’t an attempt to reduce them to ethnic sterotypes. We are not a monolithic people and I resent EVERY instance where Black women are cast as neck-rolling heavy women with hands on their hips and the men are reduced to just another street talking “Bruh”. That said, the show has to have a broader appeal to survive, hence you have to keep a diverse supporting cast with interesting storylines as well. Add to that more suspenseful storylines, danger and intrigue without giving up the intellect, sex appeal, world travels, and multilingual aspects and the ratings should go up. The general concensus appeas to be that rather than cancel the show NBC should consider making changes with the writers instead. Afterall, for the first time in years, shows like The Event and Undercovers has given me something to look forward to watching every week other than the corny sitcoms and lame, cut-throat reality/competition shows. And with some modifications, NBC has an opportunity to find a niche by filling a void that has existed way too long. Otherwise, I guess I’ll have to turn the channel or cut off the television while we wait another period of years for shows starring African-Americns to be launched.

  • Joselin carter

    I think the story line needed a little bit of work. I got tired of them doing the same thing every episode, the kitchen , then her sister says the guy from San Francisco is here…in every episode that gets tired quickly…but it had a lot of potential, it kept me on the edge,I love the action and I’m a big Boris fan!!!

    undercovers fans keep telling NBC how you feel please sign the petition http://www.petitiononline.com/Undr9078/petition.html please spread the link!!!

  • Will

    I really, really enjoyed this show. I thought it was well put together. This show had the right amount of action, suspense and romance to keep me watching. I eagerly waited for the show to air each week. How could anyone not want to watch such a beautiful black couple “kick ass” for the good of the county each week? NBC needs to reconsider canceling this show. Five million viewers can’t be wrong.

  • I did my best to catch the show each week & I had hoped that it would last longer to give it a chance to improve. I also remember watching Hart to Hart as a child (“Jonathan!”-in my Stephanie Hart voice) and had hoped that it would be somewhat of an updated version. But like you Alfred, after about the second or third episode, I found myself doing other things,(catching up on email, phone calls, etc.) while it was on. The show didn’t hold my interest and that’s always the first clue for me. I also found the “ex-lover” degrading & unrealistic. I mean really, would a ex-spy of the caliber of Stephen Bloom hesitate to snap the neck (or at least attempt to)of someone as disrespectful as Leo in tv land? I think not. Kodjoe’s character needed to be darker, more intimidating with a sexy spin to it. Instead they made him look weak and like he’s afraid his wife will run off, any minute, with someone else. Why?

    The comedy killed it. I was looking for more “Mission Impossible” but instead it was a poor attempt at “True Lies”.

  • Lamont

    The show seemed to be half-assed from the get-go! I thought the characters had a very attractive and in-depth quality that was never fully realized on account of the script/screen writers.

    Alfred Edmond Jr.’s first replay about the ex-boyfriend speaking outta turn was on point. Kudos to you brotha for mentioning that.

    I find myself scratching my head but eventually shrugging my shoulders. It all seems fishy to me; like they knew it was going to get scrapped …as if they planned it that way. Whatever! We blacks got bigger concerns than some hapless show anyway. By the way, why are we always fighting to be apart of someone else’s setup instead of trying to pull together and get our sh#! right? The canceling of this show might be the best thing yet?

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  • A fan


    I don’t agree with everything that writer has written, but if you want the show to remain consider joining the following FB group.

  • Robert Monroe, Jr.

    Three fixes for “Undercovers: 1, Lose the comedy and light tone. Not every TV show featuring Black people has to have humor and there was no need to soften Boris to make him less threatening to the white audience. Yes, Black dramas don’t do well on TV but since this was a spy show and not a show dealing with social issues a serious tone would have worked. 2, Get rid of the white boy talking about how he used to date and be intimate with the female lead. It was demeaning, insulting and in real-life someone would have kicked his @$$ by now. 3, Better gadgets,.

    • The show was just okay. I watched every episode to give it a chance to adjust and improve. But honestly, it just wasn’t very good. It had nothing to do with them being black. It just wasn’t a very good show. It needed more mmph! The lead couple are attractive people, but the show has to be good too. We watch good shows, and a lot of us hoped it would be good to watch, but at times it was, then other times it wasn’t. IMO, The Good Wife is the best show on tv right now. Michael Ealy is excellent on that show. I watch it because its a good show, not because there’s someone black on there ALTHOUGH i will really FAITHFULLY watch a show that has some black people on AND is good to watch.

  • Rharris

    LOVED the show; hate it’s going… Will add to my DVD collection! I can see your points about making them a little edgier, more dangerous since it’s about dangerous spies… I was just enjoying the eye candy and lovely interaction between the Blooms – After all, we see very little of happy & married Black love on TV, traveling & maneuvering the world, speaking varied languages, etc…. Maybe NBC will heed some of your suggestions…

  • Marquelon Sigler

    Look I agree that the show had some problems but that’s no reason to cancel it. I remember Hart to Hart and I actually liked that this show reminded me off it. I watched 24 and let’s face it Jack Bauer was a terrorist but I don’t see why every spy show has to be that dark. What I liked about the show was how worldly and well traveled the lead black characters were. I found myself tuning in just to see where they going from Week to week. Overall much better than Tyler Perry’s shows.

  • Alfred Edmond Jr.

    Last night’s UnderCovers episode delivered it’s lowest ratings yet–less than 5.2 million. But I still refuse to believe that the show cannot be transformed into a hit, with a remix.

    • liz markus

      I did like UnderCovers. But if they could have had the same seriousness of CSI: NY with the combination of likeable characters and better writters I think it might have worked. Didn’t like Rizzoli and Isles for the reason that I didn’t like the writers and I didn’t like the characters who played the leads. I could very well see him  in Burn Notice  but the female leads did not complement him.  

  • shayne

    God forbid there’s a black man showing affection towards his black wife!!!! Give the show a chance

  • I love this series, hope it comes back onm the actors are great. Love Tyler Perry , Guru and Gerald, PLEASE put this show back on, it has nothing to do with color- the actors are supberb. I could do without the sister act, then it would be awesome.