Being a secret agent seems like a pretty rough job, what with passwords and sneaking around and maybe getting killed, but just imagine if you had to keep your undercover activities a secret even from yourself. Boy, that would be one tough gig.
That's the slightly goofy premise of NBC's new action drama, My Own Worst Enemy, which premieres Monday at 10 p.m. The series stars former Hollywood Bad Boy Christian Slater in a challenging double role of two different guys who have only one thing in common: they share the same body.
Henry Spivey is a mild-mannered, slightly boring management consultant who lives in the suburbs with his wife, two kids, a dog, and a minivan. Edward Albright is a James Bond-type secret operative who can speak 19 languages, run a 4-minute mile, and kill an adversary in more ways than you can imagine. He works for a shadowy government organization seems like there are lots of those on TV these days, doesn't it? that has its subterranean headquarters beneath a downtown office building.
Alfre Woodard (Desperate Housewives) plays Edward's boss, Mavis, one of the few people who know about his secret alter ego, and the one who can explain it in the most impressive terms:
'We manifested a divergent identity dormant in a sealed-off portion of the medial temporal lobe,' she explains in Enemy's premier episode. In English, that just means that they created a split personality within Edward's noggin.
By means of a computerized monitoring and activation system, Mavis and her agency can switch back and forth between Edward and Henry whenever they need to. On a dangerous mission in Moscow, for example, he'd be Edward. When the mission is completed, they'd switch him back to Henry.
And the neat thing is that neither Edward nor Henry has any idea that the other exists at first, anyway.
Of course, some viewers might wonder as I did why Mavis & Co. didn't just set Edward up with a nice condo in Phoenix and tell him to lay low between assignments. That would have been a lot easier than doing it the way they did.
But that wouldn't be nearly as much fun. Plus, you wouldn't have all the philosophical claptrap about exploring the duality of man, a topic nicely covered more than a century ago by Robert Louis Stevenson in his book, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The series actually pays homage to the dueling spirits of Jekyll and Hyde, using the same first names for its main character as those of Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde.
Whoa. How's that for heavy literary allusion?
In the show's first episode, things are going moderately well Edward coolly dispatches a female spy moments after bedding her, while Henry prepares to go watch his kid's soccer game but then something goes haywire with the circuits in Edward/Henry's brain, and he (they?) starts drifting back and forth between identities at the most inopportune moments. This is awkward at best, and potentially very dangerous for both alter-egos.
Henry is understandably unnerved by this turn of events, and he confronts Mavis, demanding to know why he's involved in a wacky mind-control scheme that he never agreed to. True enough, Mavis concedes, Henry never did sign up for this. But Edward did.
'We didn't experiment on you, Henry,' she explains. 'You are the experiment.'
The two personalities spend a little time in each other's worlds, and they're fascinated by what they find. Henry checks out Edward's hidden weapons cache and takes his supercharged sports car for a spin, while Edward shows Henry's surprised wife some of the supercharged moves he's picked up over the years as a world-class lover.
Not surprisingly, this trade-off doesn't go over so well with Henry. 'There is an incredible difference between driving somebody's car and driving somebody's wife!' he declares.
Playing both halves of a double role isn't easy, and if you need proof of that, recall Arnold Schwarzenegger's laughably awful performance in the movie True Lies, in which he plays a secret agent who hides his identity behind the facade of a bumbling computer salesman. While Ah-nold is as semi-convincing as he ever is in the action role, he's a complete dud as an Everyman.
Of course, Slater is 10 times the actor than the Governator has ever been. And though he's probably better known these days for hard partying, drug abuse, various arrests, and dating Hollywood cuties such as Christina Applegate and Winona Ryder, the 39-year-old Slater has received critical acclaim for his work on stage in London and on Broadway, and for roles in several movies, including
Heathers, Pump Up the Volume, and Interview with the Vampire.
Sure, the premise of My Own Worst Enemy may be silly, and the plot turns a little hard to follow at times, but thanks to the quite likable Slater and his solid supporting cast, it might just be fun to strap yourselves in and ride along on his action-packed journey through uncharted territory.