NBC drama 'Allegiance' revives spy intrigue
Keshet-produced series looks to be a hit this season.
The spy drama is very much in vogue. "The Americans" is in its third season on FX, "The Last Ship" was a summer hit for TNT, and NBC just entered the espionage game with "Allegiance," a drama about a young CIA agent (Gavin Stenhouse) who has no idea his family are Russian spies.
As the opening episode sets up, Katya O’Connor (Hope Davis) is a former Russian agent who married Mark (Scott Cohen), moved to the suburbs and had three children (one of whom, Natalia, knows about her mom’s past). Now the Russians want to reactivate Katya and use her to turn her son Alex into a double agent. The series is based on an Israeli drama called "The Gordin Cell," created by Keshet, the production company whose programs inspired the successful series "Homeland," "Tyrant" and "In Treatment."
George Nolfi, who wrote "The Bourne Ultimatum" and wrote, produced and directed "The Adjustment Bureau," is the creator, executive producer and show runner of "Allegiance." He says it all started with "a really interesting meeting" with Keshet CEO Avi Nir. "The central dilemma of a family that has to protect its son by spying on him was a really interesting premise and a good fit with my interests," Nolfi told From the Grapevine.
But some changes needed to be made from the Israeli original, in both character and plot. "The central character of Alex is quite different," Nolfi said. “The issues that he has, and the way that he's the center of an investigation, his ability to see patterns that other people don't see, coupled with the idea that he can comprehend the most complex patterns out there and facts – that’s there. But that he can't comprehend the most simple social situations – that changed," said Nolfi, who added "the central dilemma that Alex was investigating something that would uncover his parents as spies."
Nolfi believes that his show "is probably the most realistic, authentic depiction of the way the intelligence community actually operates, more so than a 'Bourne' or something like that – a very paranoid world. Because the protagonists of the show are caught in a life‑and‑death bind, they can do the kind of extreme things that you need to do to keep a dramatic television show going. Then the people around them, who work as FBI agents or CIA officers and analysts, can follow the rules."
As for comparisons some have made to "The Americans," Nolfi thinks the differences go beyond the fact that the former is set in the 1980s, and "Allegiance" is contemporary. "Watch one or two episodes, and I think it's pretty clear that we're going in a very different direction," he said. "This is fundamentally a family drama about people who really do not want to be spies, and they're forced into this situation. They're stuck in a vise."
As the series progresses, he said, "I want to explore the idea of the Alex character growing up from a boy to a man. He has no idea what’s going on with his parents, and he comes to realize the awful truth and has to deal with that. I want to explore how these characters are all caught, struggling to get out, and have to descend into Dante’s Inferno on the way out. Most of all," he adds, “I want people to be drawn in and entertained."
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