'Covert Affairs' review: Exciting and endearing espionage

covert-affairs-piper-perabo-01-320.jpgWith "Covert Affairs," USA has added another slick and likable drama to its summer lineup.

"Covert" premieres Tuesday, July 13 at 10 p.m. ET immediately following that another government agency crime drama "White Collar." The two shows are well matched tonally, using elements of danger, action, attractive leads, undercover missions and a healthy dose of wish fulfillment to trigger those endorphins.

The series centers on 28-year-old Annie Walker ( Piper Perabo), a polyglot who's been plucked unceremoniously from CIA training and dumped into the field. She handles the newfound responsibilities as well as to be expected, which means she gets shot at and botches procedure a few times. Luckily, she gets support at work from blind tech guy Auggie ( Christopher Gorham) and at home from her sister Danielle ( Anne Dudek), who's unaware of her sis' double life.

The heart of the show -- and thus its success -- is wrapped up in Perabo, who has had a busy film career with works such as "Coyote Ugly," "Cheaper by the Dozen" and "The Prestige." And although she exudes the same charm as always, Perabo seems made for the earthier, everyday exposure that TV offers by inviting her into people's homes.

She's game for anything. On the action side she's obviously trained well and has the physique to prove it. On the acting side, her incredibly mobile face expresses every nuance of confusion, annoyance, determination and glee, which adds the first layer of humor to the series. And that zillion-watt Joker-wide smile is perhaps one of the most dangerous weapons in her personal arsenal.

covert-affairs-kari-matchett-christopher-gorham-320.jpgNobody's immune to Annie's charms it seems, not even Auggie Anderson the tech ops whose brilliance is undiminished after losing his sight. Gorham carries his fiendish likability from "Ugly Betty" (and yes, even "Harper's Island") with him to USA and is the most deliberately humorous character on the show, making comments like, "Probably best if you drive" when discussing after work drinks.

The remainder of the exciting cast also includes the brittle but beautiful Kari Matchett, enigmatically powerful Peter Gallagher, too smooth Eric Lively and a warm portrayal by Dudek, aka "House's" "cutthroat bitch." Sendhil Ramamurthy of "Heroes" fame will join the series mid-stream but was not in the pilot.

Balancing the frivolity of the caperish elements and jokey deliveries is the danger that the CIA brings, not only in the form of action sequences -- gunfire, car chases and hand-to-hand combat -- but also in the form of emotional turmoil. There are secrets within the CIA, in addition to some past heartache, that threaten to make Annie jaded. As in the NBC spy caper "Chuck," that innocence and idealism are what make the wide-eyed protagonist admirable in the face of such horrors that should prove otherwise.

And it doesn't hurt that Annie does this all while looking great in a pair of killer Christian Louboutins.

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Photo credits: USA

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