Secret Agent Man: From Prima With Love (2000)

Produced by Barry Sonnenfeld
Directed by Perry Lang
Costas Mandylor, Dina Myer, Dondre T Whitfield, Paul Guilfoyle, Musetta Vandor, Jsu Garcia, Kevin McNulty
Music by David Bergeaud
Song, ‘Secret Agent Man’ performed by The Supreme Beings Of Leisure

Barry Sonnenfeld (Wild, Wild, West) produced this television series that ran for twelve episodes in the year 2000. The series, while being enjoyable, in all honesty must be considered a flop. There are a few reasons for this. The first is the look of the show. The series is quite light-hearted and the cast provided a few sparks, but the show is filmed in a very cold and sterile manner. The look is predominantly black and blue and it is edited in an overtly digital way. I understand that they were attempting a sort of hi-tech realism, but all it does is de-humanise the characters and proceedings. And the editing ruins the flow of any action sequences. Rather than our hero (or heroes) being able to land a clean punch on a villains chin, he is rendered impotent by the chopping up and distortion of his movements.

The next weakness, and this is probably a budget restraint, is that the globe-trotting in the show in all fairly non-descript. One location or country seem the same as the last. When the team are sent on a mission to Paris, the locations seem exactly the same as a mission in New York. Isn’t one of the joys of watching a globe-trotting agent, is watching him (or her) in exotic places with beautiful people? Secret Agent Man never strikes me with the tourist bug.

That’s the negatives. Let’s look at a few positives. Firstly the cast. Our hero is Jason Monk, played by Australian actor Costas Mandylor. Mandylor plays Monk as a smart arse. He stops short of arching an eyebrow, but certainly plays up the sexist and un-PC aspects of his character. It helps that his character is a classic womanising secret agent in the sixties mould. Mandylor is quite good, but probably isn’t everybody’s idea of the square jawed espionage hero.

Monk rarely gets to work alone. His partner is Holliday played by Dina Myer. She is every bit Monk’s equal and knows it, but is reduced to being second banana because she is a woman. The sexism in the screenplay is deliberate and played for all it is worth. The relationship and gamesmanship between Monk and Halliday does occasionally dip into American sitcom territory. I would suggest, had the series continued, by season four that Monk and Halliday would have been married

The next member of the team is Davis (Dondre T Whitfield). He is the gadget master and technical whiz on the team. On occasions, in certain episodes, he comes to the fore and becomes a fully-fledged field agent, but generally his appearances are barely more than cameos. At times he tends to be almost like David Ketchum as Agent 13 in Get Smart. He didn’t exactly hide in garbage bins and mailboxes, but did turn up unexpectedly, offer a witticism and some advice and them disappear without a trace. The performance by Whitfield is likeable but he rarely has enough to do.

And finally there is Paul Guilfoyle as Brubeck, the US head of the organization. He is an interesting and refreshing change to the usual, crusty ‘M’ type. He is flippant and snide towards his agents, and adversaries for that matter. But he can afford to be, as he has complete faith in his agents and a confidence that everything will work out fine. He doesn’t seem to be under any pressure at all, despite the diabolical situation the organization is facing.

From Prima With Love is the first episode in the twelve episode series. Even though the action begins from the first scenes, this series is a slow starter due to the lack of characterisation. The show opens at the Walter Reed Army Hospital. A man is rushed into the secured medical wing for emergency surgery after a gunshot wound to the chest. As the medical staff attempt to save the man, outside on the perimeter, behind a high wire fence, a young man assembles a large gun. He then fires the weapon through the fence at the hospital building. The gun does not fire bullets, rockets or grenades, but an electro magnetic pulse (EMP). This pulse renders all electrical and electronic equipment useless. The doctors cannot operate in the dark without equipment. The man dies.

At an un-named intelligence agency, Chief Brubeck and Davis are in a flap. They have been trying to develop a portable, directional EMP weapon for years, but it seems like the bad guys have beaten them to it. The only problem is they don’t know who the bad guys are. Therefore, the organisation needs it’s best man on the job. That happens to be Jason Monk, and currently he is on leave. In fact, he is on a date and doesn’t welcome the intrusion. The intrusion, however is not from his organisation – they can’t find him – it’s from an enemy agent named Prima. She wants to defect.

Prima used to work for an evil organisation called Trinity. She tells Monk that they are the ones who have developed the EMP weapon. But Trinity aren’t the type of outfit that you can simply walk away from and they send agents to kill Prima. When this fails, Trinity raises that stakes – unless Prima is returned to them, they will use the EMP weapon on public targets like Heathrow Airport or in the Paris tunnel.

Despite this being the first episode in the series, the show starts like all the characters are old friends. There is no attempt to introduce the characters, and only through watching the show does a picture slowly emerge of who they are – what they do, and whose side they are on. Obviously, this coldness dissipates as the series progresses (or more correctly, you view more episodes from the series) – but it is still a hurdle to cross in this first episode.

In the end Secret Agent Man is entertaining but not quite serious or hi-tech enough to compete with shows like Alias or La Femme Nikita. It also doesn’t have the budget or the gloss to be a modern day equivalent of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or I Spy. What you have is a series that has its heart in the right place but didn’t strike the right balance of espionage ingredient to be a qualified success.

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