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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Chaos gives a fun pilot that doesn't feel like CBS


     The first thing that struck me about CBS's Chaos is that it does not feel like a CBS show. I say that as a compliment. CBS is known for its crime procedurals, which tend to follow the same formula most weeks. While the network has some truly excellent series that break the mold (for example, The Good Wife and The Big Bang Theory), Chaos is not what I expect from them. It feels more like a FOX offering, or perhaps NBC. As such, I applaud CBS for delivering a fun, highly enjoyable pilot.

     In the beginning, Rick Martinez (Freddy Rodriguez, Six Feet Under, Ugly Betty) arrives to work at the CIA, only to find that his job no longer exists due to budget cuts, a timely twist that I'm sure many viewers can relate to. Because his dream employer has always been the Agency, Rick begs Director Higgins (Kurtwood Smith, That '70s Show, Worst Week) for any position, listing his various skills, many self-taught. Higgins relents, placing him within a rogue-ish department known as ODS as a mole, assigned to report back to Higgins on any rules the other men break. Hesitantly, Rick agrees to accept the odd job.

     The colorful group of men that make up ODS, led by Michael (Eric Close), operate outside of direct oversight, having high connections that allow them to break the rules. They are onto Rick from the moment he walks in the door, and have him blackmailed inside of an hour. Most of the rest of the episode involves a real mission, where Rick struggles to earn their trust, and ends up siding with them against Higgins before the end of the pilot. Because the ODS guys are likable, while Higgins is almost villain-like, Rick must be with them in the scheme of things to make a valid central character. However, in the eyes of legality, Higgins is a hero trying to clean up a department of misfits.

     There is action and a little suspense, but the strongest element of this spy series is the humor. Rick swallows a live scorpion at one point. A team member, Casey (Tim Blake Nelson, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) is known as the Human Weapon. Another, Billy (James Murray, Primeval), speaks with a thick Scottish brogue after leaving his native country under suspicious circumstances. A CIA man with no office wanders the halls and tries to befriend others in hopes of landing a more stable assignment. I welcome very much these gags because we already have more serious series in the genre, and its nice to see a network show that holds fun in high regard.

     While every single main character shines and has distinctive characteristics right after the bat, I find Fay (Carmen Ejogo, Kidnapped, Away We Go) the most interesting. That's because her attraction to Rick seems genuine, but she works for Higgins, and was once married to Michael. As such, her loyalties are surely pulled in several different directions, and it's hard to know if she can be trusted or not. I hope the series goes on for quite a while before we find out Fay's true motivations.

     If you'd like to check out Chaos, it airs Friday nights at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.

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