Networks sometimes send signals about what they think of a certain show by the way they schedule it. And to our ears, debuting a show on Friday nights with less than two months left in the season isn’t the strongest vote of confidence.
Such is the lot of “Chaos,” a show about a roguish (if not entirely rogue) team of CIA operatives that premieres on CBS at 8 p.m. ET Friday (April 1). It’s a not always comfortable mix of action, drama and comedy, and if it’s far from the worst new series to hit the airwaves this season, it’s also not at the top of the list. It’s a little too middle of the road for its own good.
The show centers on Rick Martinez (Freddy Rodriguez of “Six Feet Under”), a newly minted CIA officer who arrives at the agency for his first day on the job … and finds out the program he trained for has been cut. His boss, Deputy Director Higgins (Kurtwood Smith), has an offer for him, though: Join the Office of Disruptive Services and serve as Higgins’ mole within the team, reporting on any- and everything the ODS team does so that Higgins can build a case to shut it down.
And why would Higgins want to shut them down? Because, as team leader Michael Dorset (“Without a Trace” veteran Eric Close) explains to Rick, Higgins and his ilk define success “as the lack of failure,” whereas the ODS is built on the idea of high risk and high reward. Dorset and his cohorts, deported ex-British Secret Service operative Billy Collins (James Murray, “Primeval”) and “human weapon” Casey Malick (Tim Blake Nelson) consider themselves “the last of the old-school spooks,” and they’re outliers in the current CIA.
What that means in Friday’s premiere is that they undertake a mission in Sudan to free a journalist being held by ransom-demanding rebels, using various deceptive and underhanded tactics. And that’s just to get away from the agency suits.
Rodriguez, who’s 36 but could probably pass for about 25, is a good choice for the wide-eyed, idealistic newcomer dropped into the (pardon the pun) chaotic world of the agency. Except, frankly, the show doesn’t really live up to its title. We’re obviously supposed to side with the men of action in the sea of bureaucracy, but it might help if it felt like Dorset and his team felt a little bit more like the loose cannons Higgins makes them out to be. As written by creator Tom Spezialy (a veteran of “Reaper” and “Desperate Housewives”), they’re not much more than a little quirky.
Because of that, things that feel like they’re intended to be either laugh-out-loud or shake-your-head funny come across as just mildly amusing (although hearing the hangdog Nelson, of “O Brother Where Art Thou?” fame, described as a “human weapon” is a pretty good gag, made all the better by him living up to it). Nelson (or his stunt double) has one good fight scene, but the few action pieces are also a little pedestrian. Brett Ratner directed the pilot (he’s also an exec producer), but it’s pretty light on the pyrotechnics.
It all adds up to a show that maybe befits its late-season, low-profile timeslot after all. The actors in “Chaos” are all pretty likable, but the material they’ve been given to work with doesn’t do them a whole lot of favors.
Here’s a clip from Friday’s premiere of “Chaos.”