REVIEW: NBC’s “The Enemy Within”

The Enemy Within - Season 1Having a strong teaser trailer is a great way for a TV show to convince viewers to tune in. The Enemy Within had an extremely strong teaser. It opened with Jennifer Carpenter’s character receiving a phone call from a terrorist demanding the names of the intelligence agents tracking him in exchange for the safety of her daughter. The terrorist starts counting down and, eventually, Carpenter gives the terrorist the names of the agents and the teaser ends. It’s effective. It draws you into what’s going on and makes you really want to see the show where she has to betray her country to save her daughter. The problem is, The Enemy Within isn’t actually that show. That entire teaser trailer is just a flashback at the end of the pilot. The real show is, essentially, a Blacklist clone where an already convicted Erica Shepherd (Jennifer Carpenter) being recruited by FBI agent Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut) to track down the terrorist who is the reason for her imprisonment. It’s a way less interesting show than one that followed her as she committed treason.

In this character-based psychological thriller, Erica Shepherd (Jennifer Carpenter) is a brilliant former CIA operative, now known as one of the most notorious traitors in recent American history serving life in a Supermax prison. Against every fiber of his being but with nowhere else to turn, FBI Agent Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut) enlists Shepherd to help track down a fiercely dangerous and elusive criminal she knows all too well. While Shepherd and Keaton have different motivations for bringing the enemy to justice, they both know that to catch a spy… they must think like one.

The cast includes Jennifer Carpenter, Morris Chestnut, Raza Jaffrey, Kelli Garner, Cassandra Freeman and Noah Mills.

“The Enemy Within” was created by Ken Woodruff, who executive produces alongside Matt Corman, Chris Ord and Charles Beeson. Mark Pellington directs and executive produces the pilot. Vernon Sanders also executive produces the pilot. “The Enemy Within” is produced by Universal Television.

The Enemy Within - Season PilotThe Enemy Within is a mess. From its writing to its editing to its tone, the show doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. One moment, it seems to be a super serious drama about these FBI Agents trying to capture this terrorist that’s responsible for a recent bombing, then the next minute there’s some weird editing that totally calls attention to itself and makes you laugh with how over-the-top it is. The same rings true for the dialogue. When it’s not being overly cliche, it’s either decent, naturalistic dialogue or it’s really over-the-top and on the nose and the show can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. If it wants to be a serious drama, that’s fine. It just needs to stick with that tone. If it wants to be self-aware and over-the-top, that’s also fine. But, again, stick to that tone. It’s possible to mix those two tones, but it takes a lot of finesse and this show just has none of that finesse in its writing. You can’t be so on-the-nose that what you’re showing is inadvertently funny and then expect the audience to take you seriously when you’re trying to be serious. Unfortunately, that’s what this show’s questionable editing and inconsistent dialogue do.

The Enemy Within - PilotAside from the questionable editing choices and weak dialogue, the show has an uninteresting premise. It’s just the same old “police have to team up with a convicted criminal in order to catch another, worse criminal and said convicted criminal maybe isn’t so evil after all” premise. We’ve seen it with Hannibal Lecter, we’ve seen it with The Blacklist, we’ve seen it time and time again. And, honestly, The Enemy Within doesn’t really offer anything new to the formula. Erica Shepherd only betrayed her country because she was trying to save her daughter. That’s actually a cool idea and that would make the basis for a very good show, as we watch her struggle with making that decision and then living with the immediate aftermath of it. Instead, that decision is relegated to a minute-long flashback at the end of the pilot – after we see her get arrested at the beginning of the pilot! Instead of this interesting, character-driven piece about a woman betraying her country to save her kid, we get another tired case-of-the-week show where the police have to be assisted by the convicted criminal. It’s boring and it’s disappointing when you look at that first teaser trailer and all the promise it had. That first teaser is significantly more interesting than the actual show is.

The Enemy Within - PilotThat lack of interest bleeds into the performances from the actors, too. Jennifer Carpenter seems completely unconnected from the material for the majority of the pilot episode. She gets better in the second episode when her character is actually given something to do, but, oftentimes, the pilot is the most important episode of a show’s first season and if you can’t make your lead character interesting in the pilot, you’re liable to completely lose your audience. The same rings true for Morris Chestnut’s Will Keaton; he constantly treads the line between engaged and bored/uninterested and his character’s backstory isn’t particularly interesting or original either. It turns out that Erica Shepherd is responsible for Keaton’s wife’s death, so he holds a grudge against her. Haven’t we heard that tale before? The rest of the cast quickly fade into the background as neither they – nor their characters – are given much of anything to do, so, none of them have any chance to shine.

The Enemy Within - PilotAll in all, The Enemy Within is one of those shows that had an amazing teaser trailer but ended up being less than amazing. The show is plagued with weird writing and editing choices, a tired and cliched premise and characters, and performances from its lead actors that seem disconnected and bored with the material. It’s disappointing because that first trailer made the show seem like it could be something special. But, instead, we’ve just gotten another show that’s interchangeable with a bunch of other shows. I wish The Enemy Within was more like its teaser and less like a clone of The Blacklist. These actors deserve better material than they’re getting and the audience deserves a show that isn’t just a copy of other shows.

2.5 out of 5 wands

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