More interesting perhaps than Whiskey Cavalier itself is how hard ABC is pushing this series hoping for a hit (I think there have been promos and billboard since about 2012. That’s how long it feels, anyway). They might get it. The show has a charming cast, flashy action set-pieces, and a breezy premise. Sure, it inspires some eye-rolls and makes some bad choices, but there’s also a bomb concealed in a tampon package and frankly, that’s something new.
There isn’t much else that’s new about Whiskey Cavalier, which feels retro in both good and bad ways. It’s a sleek throwback to buddy-cop series, but that also makes it pretty rote. Its sensibilities feel outdated, yet it makes a small but positive effort for diversity among its core team. The series follows the wary and fraught partnership of FBI agent Will Chase, codename Whiskey Cavalier (Scott Foley) and CIA agent Frankie Trowbridge (Trowbridge? Lauren Cohan) alongside their team: A plucky FBI profiler (Ana Ortiz); a hacker who pretty quickly moves from target to ally (Tyler James Williams); Will’s jovial best friend at the bureau with whom he has a complicated past (Josh Hopkins); and a logistics coordinator of sorts (Vir Das) who was working with Frankie before the two sides came together to collaborate on missions.
But as for the core couple: He’s overly sentimental, she’s a hard-nosed operative who “doesn’t do emotional attachments;” they hate each other and love each other, and will eventually learn from one another (which they start to do by the second episode). You know the story!
Just in case you don’t know the story, Whiskey Cavalier never misses an opportunity to explain itself, like a third-party character saying aloud, “wow there’s a lot of sexual tension in the car.” Or explaining how Frankie is rude to Will because she likes him. All of this, plus a scene where Will improbably catches a flying vial of ebola that was ejected when a man was hit by a car, but pauses because another man is proposing to his girlfriend (in the midst of all of this sudden carnage), would usually be enough to put me off a series forever. But Whiskey Cavalier doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is truly the key. Though Dave Hemingson’s series takes some wild swings in tone, it moves along quickly and gives viewers a solid lineup of gorgeous backdrops and costume changes that are suitably distracting. This is, of course, aside from the fact that there is a lot of close-up violence. The excellent hand-to-hand combat choreography and slick spy moves are one thing, but the excessive gun violence is another.
ABC only provided two episodes for review, which gives just the smallest sense of how the series will settle in (the pilot is blunt, of course, and can barely be counted). What is clear, though, is that the series is interested in being big and broad. That doesn’t have to be bad, though occasionally it is. Really, Whiskey Cavalier is just fine as a sleek and diverting story that doesn’t ask much of us. Foley and Cohan hit all the right notes in their opposing characters’ banter, with Cohan in particular giving a very slyly funny performance (the show has built-in laughs, but Cohan does some small things that take it a little further, adding some notable layers). For the most part, the show keeps things simple and fun. There’s no crime in that, though — it’s a broadcast formula that has worked a long time, even though its reign seems to be waning. And in that vein, Whiskey Cavalier could turn into a solid procedural for ABC, as both Foley and Cohan have enough charm to see it through its weaker moments. There may not be anything particularly new about what the show does or how it does it, but it checks the right boxes.
Whiskey Cavalier premieres Sunday, February 24th after the Oscars.