The AgencyThe Agency

Watch enough TV and the line between the late-night news and the dramas that immediately precede it slowly begins to blur. Troops massing on the border between India and Pakistan. An American held hostage and killed by terrorists in the Middle East. Missionaries mistaken for drug smugglers in South America. All of these stories and scores of others have been co-opted by CBS’ The Agency. Indeed, The Agency’s bread and butter is dramatizing hot-off-the-press news, changing the names and reworking the stories. The result is gripping—and disquieting.

Beau Bridges leads this ensemble effort as CIA director Tom Gage. He’s clever, focused and determined. Robert Quinn (Daniel Benzali) is the thorn in his side, a former director now working as CIA liaison to the Office of Homeland Security. They butt heads constantly. Jealousy, ambition and a fierce, calculated rivalry play into everything they do.

These two men, and the handful of other agents profiled on the show, take on the world’s woes and all things anti-American with super-high-tech gadgetry, old-fashioned horse sense and an ever watchful eye for conspiracy. More sedentary than Alias, The Agency relies heavily on mundane office banter, romance and pranks. It picks hp the pace now and then with field work, including counter-intelligence, espionage and infiltrations.

When it comes to spying for one’s country, anything goes. That license to deceive makes this a difficult series for families to get a handle on. Immoral acts such as lying, stealing and killing are filtered through the lens of government sanctioning. That can’t help but alter viewers’ perceptions. On one level, the series is awash with second-rate role models. On another, patriotism, duty and honor rule.

Foul language and sexual content haven’t posed a big problem on The Agency, but violence and gore have been regular features. In one episode, a gunshot to a man’s neck yielded a spray of blood. In another, a character gashed his hand, intentionally flinging blood into another man’s face. Most egregious, however, was the season finale in which an American hostage was brutally tortured and killed.

Come fall, The Agency moves from Thursdays to Saturdays with several noticeable tweaks. Star Gil Bellows is expected to exit and the series will begin focusing more on Beltway politics than international intrigue. Its moral ambiguity, however, doesn’t appear to be up for reevaluation.