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TV Series Review

All his life, Rick Martinez wanted to be a spy. The glamour. The glory. The exhilarating danger. The Aston Martins with ejector seats. He figures it has to be a whole lot better than your typical 9-to-5 in Dilbertsville. "When my brothers were at soccer camp, I stayed home and studied Arabic," he says. "When everyone else was dating, I was working at a firing range, getting paid in bullets."

Turns out, though, the clandestine espionage biz isn't that far removed from most other workplaces where cubicles sprout like alfalfa and the break-room fridge always smells funny.

CHAOS, an adventure comedy on CBS, is part A-Team, part The Office. It's a workplace farce in which faulty copiers don't just break down—they're accused of un-American activities and shipped to Guantanamo. Martinez is one-quarter of a hyper-elite team housed in the CIA's division of Clandestine Administration and Oversight Services—otherwise known as CHAOS. (We can only assume that whatever the "H" stands for has been shuttled off on special assignment somewhere.) Martinez is the squad's newbie—a step up from towel boy, but not to be trusted yet with the nation's nuclear football.

Michael Dorset leads the team like a dour frat president, while Billy Collins serves as its token exchange student. (The Scottish former MI5 spy was kicked out of the U.K. for unspecified reasons.) Taciturn "human weapon" Casey Malik rounds things out, ready to unleash a canister of American-style justice on any terrorist who might wander across his path.

Together they gallivant around the world, saving innocents and embarrassing the bad guys, all in the good ol' name of the U.S. of A. Never mind that the government would rather they just stayed put.

When they do stay put, we learn that the CIA is tormented by the same budget cuts and petty rivalries as every other office in America. The only difference is that passive-aggressive emails here are augmented with "poison pills and guns." Downsized agents wander around the outside of the building, feeding the birds and hoping someone'll hire them to either run a covert expedition to Ethiopia or fetch some coffee. (Either will do in this economy.) Those still with jobs are unduly influenced by promises of cushy assignments or candy bars.

H.J. Higgins, the suit upstairs, would frankly love to kick the CHAOS boys to the curb—but they have a pesky habit of going all heroic at the least opportune times. Which makes for a rather silly, not to mention uneven, show. CHAOS, at least early on, doesn't seem to know whether it wants to be a formulaic adventure show or wacky workplace charade, and it doesn't do either as well as it could.

Profanity is present but sporadic, and the onscreen sexual tension is more implied than demonstrated. The violence is cartoonish (remember that A-Team reference?), far less visceral than even old-school James Bond.

But while the content isn't a huge issue, the show's outlook might be.

Beyond the downside of smirking over the foibles of United States' best spy guys, there's something else lurking in this lark. "You're not bad for the sake of being bad," Rodriguez tells his mates. "You're bad for the sake of doing good." They're rebels with a cause—agents fighting red tape as much as their predecessors battled the red menace. As such, I guess, they're convenient proxies for cubicle dwellers everywhere, fighting against petty injustices and pointy-haired bosses while trying to get their jobs done as best they know how.

Forgive my earnestness for a moment, but that modern ideal, pragmatic as it might seem, still undermines something that's long held sway over the ethics of spies and supervisors alike for centuries: respect for and submission to authority. Whenever you're "bad" for the sake of "good," you're still being "bad," right? We all have bosses. And we don't always agree with what they tell us to do. So the next move is ours. And it's a move that's doesn't get much good counsel from CHAOS.

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Episode Reviews

CHAOS: 412011
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