We Can Protect the Homeland With One Hand Tied Behind Our Back, Yo!

Slate's Culture Blog
July 19 2010 11:29 AM

We Can Protect the Homeland With One Hand Tied Behind Our Back, Yo!

I'm in full agreement with my colleague Troy Patterson, who dubbed Covert Affairs , USA's new series about a rookie CIA agent, "zippy." Amazingly, for a show about terrorism, it's fun, flirty, and fast-paced.

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Yet as I was watching the Covert Affairs pilot, I experienced something of a flashback.

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Annie Walker's mentor at the agency is blind Auggie Anderson, owner of the world's best headphones, which allow him to process information quicker than a sighted person. Her boss is the hard-as-nails Jane Campbell, who spends her time either threatening Annie with dismissal or questioning the fidelity of her husband, the director of the CIA's Clandestine Services Department. Haven't I seen this somewhere before? Oh, right: Back in 2004, I wrote about Threat Matrix , an ABC show about a homeland-security agency that featured a deaf analyst and, at the top of the org chart, a divorced couple who bicker with the passion of the still-married.

As far as I can tell, none of Covert Affairs ' creators worked on Threat Matrix , and judging from the latter's short life, few people watched it. So why are TV terrorism shows packed with physically challenged agents and squabbling couples? Are we sending a message to our enemies that our security agencies are staffed with Tommy -like supersensors? That our agents are so busy defending the homeland that they can't keep their marriages together? Or is it that we're so good, we can defeat our enemies without the benefit of eyes, ears, and a happy home life?

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section.