As mentioned earlier on these illustrious pages, the USA Network recently premiered the pilot of a new program, the mystery/espionage comedy Underfunded. This author watched it over the weekend and enjoyed it greatly. It’s co-written and -produced, as noted earlier, by David Breckman, a Monk writer and brother of Monk creator and producer Andy Breckman
That’s a good bloodline for a mystery-comedy series, of course, and the Underfunded pilot upheld the family honor nicely. Mather Zickel is deadpan funny as Canadian Secret Service agent Darryl Freehorn, who labors under the disadvantage of a pathetically low budget provided by the Canadian government. Freehorn, however, is the son of one of the greatest spies of all time, a CIA agent who was the person who really ended the Cold War, according to the show’s conceit. Hence, he always gets ‘er done despite the poor resources available to him.
That’s a very good theme, I think, and one that should resonate with most audience members. It’s also a very salutary message for young people, and the show was clean enough for most kids to see.
As noted, Zickel is very funny by not trying to seem funny, just as Tony Shaloub does so well on Monk. A nice touch in Underfunded is that every time Freehorn introduces himself to someone as being a member of the Canadian Secret Service, he adds, "Yes, we have one too." It’s a very Dickensian use of repetition for humor, and works well. Also amusing is the way that the CIA keeps getting credit for Freehorn’s accomplishments. The producers are very wise, however, in not making Freehorn’s CIA contact antatonistic toward him. (That’s the big problem with the first half-season of the USA Network mystery-comedy Psych, where the antagonism is both tedious and implausible. One hopes that they’ll correct that for the second half-season that begins in January.) At one important point, the CIA contact tries to give credit to Freehorn but is ignored by the government bigwig who is much more interested in talking than in listening. That certainly rings true.
Another very amusing motif was the puckish use of swingin’ mid-1960s images and spy-movie cliches. The producers even give the female lead, played by Joanna Canton, a 1960s Shirley Maclaine look. On top of it all, the story had a murder mystery at the center, which, while not particularly elaborate, was presented well and added further interest to the narrative.
Overall, Underfunded is off to a very good start. Of course, with any TV program the real job is to get enough good stories to last a full season, but Underfunded has the big things right, and looks promising indeed.
USA will show the pilot again tonight at 2 a.m. EST, so set your recorders accordingly. It’s well worth seeing.