If only “Allegiance” didn’t premiere after “The Americans.” Ever since teasers first debuted on NBC for the George Nolfi-helmed spy thriller, comparisons have been made (in some cases rightly so) to FX’s critically acclaimed show. It’s relatively easy to see why – both shows focus on entangling acts of espionage between the United States and Russia, mainly through the eyes of a single family who happens to spy for Russia. “The Americans” ’s success in depicting ’80s Cold War tensions has created a seemingly insurmountable mountain for the modern-day “Allegiance” to scale. While “Allegiance” is able to differentiate itself from its cable rival, it still borrows other tropes, creating a straightforward, predictable product with glimmers of promise.


Series Pilot
Thursdays at 10 p.m.

Opening with an execution by furnace, “Allegiance,” immediately tells viewers what to think: “Russians are the bad guys.” As sinister-looking men dressed in black trench coats watch a man be incinerated, the show draws a line in the sand labeling the Russians as villains on one side and the Americans as the good guys on the other. This oversimplification of international conflicts contrasts with “Allegiance” ’s more challenging family dynamic.

At the center of the show is the O’Connor family. The family’s only son, Alex (Gavin Stenhouse, “Person of Interest”), is a rookie CIA analyst assigned to help determine if a Russian defector is legitimate or not. Likable, yet overly familiar, Alex is an investigative savant who can read through hundreds of pages of information in a night and has expert-level knowledge about seemingly any subject, including how industrial furnaces work. Simultaneously, he is somewhat awkward and painted as an outsider. In short, he’s a relative run-of-the-mill genius with a quirk or two that is all too common on TV. Alex isn’t alone in his conventionality, with most of the CIA characters feeling generic. This includes no-nonsense boss Sam Luttrell (Kenneth Choi, “Sons of Anarchy”) and tough female agent/definite love interest Michelle Prado (Floriana Lima, “The Mob Doctor”).

However, unbeknownst to Alex, the majority of his family is Russian spies. His parents, Russian-born Katya (Hope Davis, “The Newsroom”) and Mark (Scott Cohen, “The Carrie Diaries”), an American brought in by Katya, are retired and want nothing to do with their former lives. But their past comes to haunt them in the form of walking evil Russian archetype, Victor Dobrynin (Morgan Spector, “Boardwalk Empire”) who works for the SVR, the modern KGB. He insists that the pair recruit Alex to be a spy as well. When the two protest, mentioning a deal made years ago, Victor says there is new management: “They don’t care about deals made with the old management.”

The dilemma faced by the O’Connors is the strongest part of the episode, as Katya and Mark try desperately to not bring Alex into a fate that has already claimed his older sister, Natalie (Margarita Levieva, “Revenge”). Natalie presents some compelling narrative possibilities considering her bitterness about the life her parents reluctantly forced her into, saying “You move Heaven and Earth for Alex, what did you ever do for me?”

“Allegiance” goes through several of these plot points in its pilot, never quite settling on one long enough to reach maximum effect. This is unfortunate, because there are strong sources of tension over what Katya and Mark should do and whether Alex will find out the truth, but they’re never given enough time to fully grow. Hopefully, as the show moves forward, it will allow promising threads to develop further and coalesce into a distinct identity for “Allegiance.”

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