I started watching NBC’s new spy drama My Own Worst Enemy with low expectations, so maybe that’s why I was mildly impressed by the time the credits rolled.
But before I talk about the show, I need to back up a bit. Let’s go back to 1989, which is when I first saw Christian Slater. He played opposite Winona Ryder in the dark comedy Heathers. A few years later, I made it my quest to see every Christian Slater movie (he was quite the early 90s heartthrob). He wasn’t necessarily in many high-quality films, but I have fond memories of his work in Pump Up the Volume, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Kuffs, Untamed Heart, True Romance, and Interview with the Vampire. His distinctive looks and his wry, witty demeanor had him in high demand.
But then something happened. By the mid to late 90s, his status as a heartthrob was apparently waning, and he turned to bad action movies like Broken Arrow and Hard Rain. His filmography hasn’t improved much in the 2000s (let’s pretend Alone in the Dark never happened), but he has redeemed himself somewhat with his television appearances on The West Wing and Alias. So, the main reason I decided to check out My Own Worst Enemy was to not only support my one-time movie star crush, but to see if he could find more success on the small screen.
Now we can get back to the pilot episode of My Own Worst Enemy. I wonder if the casting director thought of Christian Slater for the dual role of Edward Albright/Henry Spivey after seeing him on Alias. After all, his guest starring role on that fun spy drama was a good fit for him. Unfortunately, the opening scene played out like a poorly done parody of of one of Sydney Bristow’s international missions: the generic pillow talk between Edward and his spy contact “with benefits,” the predictable “that’s not me sleeping in the bed – it’s a pillow” development, and the fake looking Eiffel Tower backdrop. The whole situation just felt forced. My outlook didn’t improve for the next 20 minutes, as I observed what appeared to be more Alias ripoffs. Mysterious elevator that transports unsuspecting employees to a subterranean top-secret spy headquarters? Check. Geeky tech guy who is almost too socially awkward to do his job (a la Marshall)? Check. Lightning fast trips to Russia and back in less than a day, with none of that pesky jet lag? Check. I was starting to wonder if I should even finish out the episode.
But then, after all the necessary set up and establishment of characters, things got more interesting. My Own Worst Enemy may borrow some tricks from Alias’s espionage bag, but it isn’t a carbon copy. The new twist that Enemy brings? Slater’s character, Edward, voluntarily entered a U.S. spy program in which he was given a split personality. Thus, when he was 20 years old, the organization created Henry, a friendly, devoted, decidedly normal guy. For the next two decades, while Edward was out killing people, keeping secrets, and further feeding his psychotic tendencies, Henry got married, had two kids, and settled into an unexciting desk job that required a fair amount of traveling.
The show picks up the story when Henry/Edward is 39, and suddenly, with no clear explanation, his brain short circuits, and Henry becomes aware of Edward’s existence. The second half of the episode took this idea and ran with it, resulting in many creative, surprising, and entertaining developments. Based on my assessment of the first episode, I think I can say with confidence that this show has a lot of potential. Christian Slater has been given an interesting character to work with. Not only does he play two distinct personalities (a smart but loose cannon vs. a naive but dedicated family guy), but he will also play each of those characters imitating the other from time to time. That sounds like it would be a lot of fun for an actor.
The split personality motif also creates a rich subtext for complicated storylines. The audience has much to learn: What happened in Edward’s past that made him want to become a split personality spy? If Henry’s persona was created by the government, how can he come to terms with the life he has created? Will Henry and Edward work together (communicating through videos that they send to each other) to advance their own agenda, or will they try to outmaneuver each other? What secrets is Edward hiding from everyone?
For now, I plan to continue watching. The basic premise, as of now, is that the spy organization (didn’t catch the name), Edward, and Henry all know of each other’s existence, and they are all trying to use that to their respective advantages. I’d expect much spy intrigue and complicated domestic life to ensue.
The supporting cast includes Madchen Amick (she’ll always be Shelly Johnson from Twin Peaks to me) as Henry’s cheerful, supportive, clueless wife Angie. So far her character has been pretty stereotypical. There is also Alfre Woodard as Edward’s boss Mavis. She seems well cast for that role. So far Henry’s two children have been painful to watch, probably due to weak scriptwriting for the family scenes, but it is worth noting that the son is played by Taylor Lautner, who will be playing Jacob Black in the upcoming Twilight movie. This is the first I’ve seen of the actor, and he seems well cast for the first installment of Twilight, based on his appearance, but I’m not sure how he will be playing Jacob in future movie versions of the books, after Jacob goes through his “growth spurt.”
So, I was pleasantly surprised by this show. Certainly, it had its poorly executed or overdone moments (such as the slow motion scene with uber-dramatic music when Henry was being led out of a hostile environment), but overall I am intrigued enough to tune in again next week. In case you missed the premiere, it will re-air Friday on SciFi and Saturday on NBC. Let me know what you think.