Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cloaks, daggers too familiar, but they do the trick for TV

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Legends is not legendary -- not in its design, and not in its execution.

But that doesn't mean it isn't a perfectly competent, well-acted and watchable TV drama.

Legends, which has its Canadian première tonight at 8 on Bravo, is a (slightly) better than average spy-thriller series that stars Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones) as Martin Odum, a deep-undercover FBI agent who has the ability to assume a completely different identity on every case he works.

Produced for U.S. cable's TNT network, the drama also stars Ali Larter (Heroes) as Odum's reluctant FBI handler, Steve Harris (The Practice) as the stern-faced director of the bureau's Deep Cover Operations unit, Tina Majorino (Grey's Anatomy) as the team's newly installed tech expert, and Morris Chestnut (Nurse Jackie) as an FBI field agent who becomes entangled in Odum's complex web of cases and identities.

As the series opens, Odum has been on assignment for six months, having infiltrated the Citizens' Army of Virginia, a right-wing militia group whose agenda includes terrorist bombing attacks against the U.S. government.

He's on the verge of brokering a meeting that will finally expose the group's self-proclaimed "Founding Father," but an ill-timed intrusion by the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), pre-empts the face-to-face encounter and may also have blown Odum's cover.

Called back to FBI headquarters to regroup and debrief, he also finds a few moments to reconnect with his pre-teen son and estranged wife (as is often the case in such dramas, working undercover has brought an ugly end to Odum's marriage).

The break helps to establish the central character's background and lays the framework for the way he handles the casework that follows, but the narrative demands that a way is found for Odum to re-immerse himself in the militiamen's world in time to thwart an imminent attack.

What follows is fairly standard cloak-and-dagger stuff, complete with high-tech surveillance equipment and the expected high-stakes, off-the-book behaviour by Odum and his fellow agents, but the opening episode of Legends (the title refers to the term used to describe undercover operatives' complex back stories) does a pretty good job of ratcheting up the tension and bringing the first instalment's case-of-the-week thriller to a satisfying conclusion.

Legends will succeed or fail on the strength of Bean's work in the starring role, and early indications are that he's up to the challenge. The show's producers (including 24/Homeland veteran Howard Gordon) have made an interesting (and, by U.S. TV standards, unconventional) choice by allowing Bean to play Odum with his native British accent rather than having him assume a neutral Americanized tone.

The British accent is explained rather clumsily in the pilot, but once it's dealt with, it can be left behind. Interestingly, it appears that most of Odum's undercover identities will require Bean to assume some version or other of an American accent, anyway.

Legends is a spy saga that employs most of the familiar personalities and quirks, but it does so with sufficient flourish and commitment that it could attract a faithful following.

And that's good news for Bean, whose career to date has been highlighted by playing memorable characters (Rings' Boromir, Thrones' Ned Stark) who met rather untimely ends. To capitalize on that, in its marketing campaign for Legends, TNT has tried to make create some social-media buzz with the hashtag #dontkillseanbean.

It's too early to tell if the catchphrase will have viewers all a-Twitter, but no doubt it's a sentiment shared by the series' star. Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2014 C3

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