When I think of my all-time favorite movies, the two that always top the list are The Long Kiss Goodnight and 1994's True Lies. The latter has been my idea of the quintessential American spy flick for decades now, and I hold it in very high regard. So, when I found out it was being adapted into a television show, to say my interest was piqued would of course be an understatement. And now that I've seen it, the question that I have to answer is whether or not it this new adaptation does the sensational original any justice at all.
CBS's True Lies stars Steve Howey as international spy Harry Tasker and Ginger Gonzaga as his wife, Helen. She's a linguistics professor who thinks she's married to a boring computer salesman. In fact, he's so boring that she softly accuses him of having an affair and describes their marriage as passionless and "in crisis." That statement moves him to invite her "on vacation" to Paris -- a place where he's actually conducting a mission. While at dinner they're both kidnapped, Harry's cover is blown, and Helen becomes privy to his double life, of which she'll now become a much larger part. The team that goes on these missions with Harry -- and now Helen, as well -- is comprised of his best friend and "guy in the van" Gib (Omar Benson Miller), and two other field agents, Luther (Mike O'Gorman) and Maria (Erica Hernandez).
So, let's start with Harry. Obviously, Steve Howey is not Arnold Schwarzenegger, but while I didn't expect to hear an accent, I wasn't expecting the absence of one to be as jarring as it initially was.
Film Harry is portrayed as a top-tier professional. He mainly enters the field alone, is a master infiltrator, and speaks several languages fluently. He's a man of large stature that knows how to blend in, and when things get rough, he's got his skills in marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat to rely on. On the downside, he is somewhat of an absentee father and husband, even when he's present.
TV Harry, on the other hand, is a pretty decent dad and husband. However, when he hits the field he does so with both Luther and Maria (and now Helen). While he's still revered for being "the best," he's not a master linguist -- hence Helen's built-in usefulness. We also never really see him being stealthy. The opening mission in the movie never goes off the rails -- Harry just decides to go loud on the way out. But TV Harry's opening mission goes loud by accident; he accidentally knocks a marble ball off a table while subduing an unexpected bad guy, which sets off the alarms. He also gets a little pinned down while trying to ward off his team's motorcycle-and-machine-gun-clad pursuers and has to come up with a plan in the moment. Film Harry remained cool as a cucumber the whole time, and needed no plan, because by the time he got to the van he'd left no one alive left to chase them.
Then we have Helen. Film Helen (Oscar winner Jamie Lee Curtis!) was a super-reserved legal secretary who desperately craved excitement and variety in her life. The big difference is that while TV Helen had a friend who suggested TV Harry may be having an affair, Film Helen was having an affair of sorts herself -- one where she galivanted around town with a used car salesman who, ironically, was lying about being a spy himself, but actually wasn't one.
It was Film Harry's rage stalking and subsequent secret kidnapping/interrogation of his own wife that led to his recruiting her for a fake mission in order to spice up her life. That's when they both get kidnapped, in the movie at least.
TV Helen dresses and appears younger than her film counterpart, and apparently is a capable fighter because she watches exercise videos and does hella yoga. She doesn't have the stuffy housewife energy that Film Helen did, and her motivation isn't so much about spicing up her life as it is about her figuring out what the space between her and Harry was filled with. Spoiler alert, it was filled with spy stuff.
The overall vibe of the whole thing is a bit of a departure from the source material as well. In the original, the agency that Harry and the gang work for is called Omega Sector, and it feels like a very grounded and tactile government organization. It has a very FBI-meets-military-operation kind of feel, if that makes sense. TV Omega Sector is a bit more Mission: Impossible in nature, with tech that glows blue and briefings that are given by a faceless computer voiceover instead of Charlton Heston. I swear, when the computer said the words "your mission" I half expected to hear "should you choose to except it" come right after.
In the film, Omega Sector is referenced like once, when the audience is introduced to it. In the show, all the bad guys seem to know about Omega Sector, by name, and boy is that name is dropped a lot. Seriously, Harry alone says the words "Omega Sector" at least three or four times an episode so far.
In the most recent episode, most of the plot revolves around Harry and Helen being worried about each other's exes, which is as sitcom-y a premise as they come. It works, but I think the extent to which the couple is behaving "domestically" during professional moments kind of takes away from how useful Helen's presence is supposed to feel.
I could go on and on, but the moral of the story is this isn't an R-rated movie. It's an action comedy that's rated TV-PG. So, all the things I'm missing -- the cussing, the dirty jokes, the sexual references - went out the window with the rating, and with way the show speeds past the conflict that brought both of their lies to light in the film, the focus is now instead on how they work together. I personally would have enjoyed it a little more if the show spent more time on developing the distance between them, or even if they'd made Harry a worse father and husband, because at least then the revelation of his truth would help him improve in both of those areas, the way it did in the film.
But that is not what this is. What we get is still a fun watch, but it does feel like a more wholesome version of something that originally delighted us with its down-to-Earth adult humor and fearlessly deadly protagonist. I mean, my parents used to send me out of the room during certain parts of the film. But the series? I could sit down and watch that with the whole family. The question that viewers have to ask themselves now is whether or not that's the type of thing that works for them. Given the success of the True Lies' sister shows on CBS (the NCIS, FBI and CSIfranchises, to name a few, I'd say this is exactly that kind of thing.
Click the social buttons above or below to share this content with your friends and colleagues.
The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.