To anyone familiar with the 1994 movie “True Lies,” the first question for a series adaptation is where to begin. CBS perhaps wisely splits the difference by clueing in the wife on her husband’s clandestine life as a superspy during the premiere, setting up a double-secret scenario that plays out agreeably enough over the first four episodes, without fully answering the other question, which is why bother?
Adapted from James Cameron’s film pairing Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, the series begins with Helen (Ginger Gonzaga, recently seen in “She-Hulk”) grousing about her husband Harry Tasker (Steve Howey) being kind of boring. Although he’s a little buff for a computer salesman, Helen complains that his “idea of fun and adventure is ordering coffee from Hawaii.”
Harry, however, has for years hidden the fact that he actually works for Omega Sector, a super-secret government organization, carrying out elaborate missions (now with a team backing him) when he’s supposedly off on business trips.
Still, the juggling act has become a little more difficult of late – “You’re the genius who decided to get married and have a family,” Gib (Omar Miller), Harry’s partner, reminds him – prompting Harry to impulsively bring Helen along on a last-minute mission to Paris. His longstanding ruse winds up being exposed, meaning Helen is now part of things, forcing the two to try managing a mix of espionage and domestic bliss.
As translated to the smaller screen by writer-producer Matt Nix (whose series “Burn Notice” possessed much the same tone), “True Lies” essentially turns the Taskers’ teenage kids into the parties who are now being misled by their parents’ moonlighting. While that seems like potentially fertile territory, instead of exploiting the children’s blindness – making them, not Helen, the marks to be deceived – the initial batch of episodes sort of ignores them, an avenue that will perhaps present itself more fully later.
The focus thus hinges on Helen adjusting to her new and dangerous reality, as well as how the cloak-and-dagger machinations spice up their marriage, which was where the movie ended up.
As constructed, that’s something of a hit-miss proposition. It’s funny, for example, when Harry has to explain his history with an alluring femme fatale, and more tedious as Helen undergoes training while her husband keeps reassuring her (not always convincingly), “You’re doing great.”
The same largely goes for the globetrotting action, which obviously can’t approach big-budget movie ambitions but still feels a trifle generic at times.
TV has a long track record of husband-and-wife spy and/or detective shows, which might explain why “True Lies” feels like a breezy throwback to a different era. The result is a show that’s generally fun, but beyond the value of name recognition (the answer to that second question above), doesn’t completely make a case for investing in a series version.
“True Lies” has the potential to fulfill that fundamental mission, but it still has a way to go before justifying its existence. And that’s no lie.
“True Lies” premieres March 1 at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.