‘True Lies’ television reboot owes more to Remington Steele than Schwarzenegger
It’s been a banner year for “True Lies’” veterans.
James Cameron, who directed that 1994 smash hit, finally released “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and it’s already the third-highest-grossing movie of all time. Jamie Lee Curtis, who stole the nearly 30-year-old thriller with a slapstick striptease, just earned an Oscar nomination for her role in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
However, neither has any involvement in the TV reboot, “True Lies.” And it shows.
Viewers who tune in for the premiere at 10 tonight on CBS will get the same basic setup as the original Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle: A disenchanted wife (Ginger Gonzaga) discovers that her seemingly mild-mannered husband (Steve Howey) is a superspy and gets pulled into his world.
But what follows isn’t the kind of action-packed thriller that made Schwarzenegger a star. The series ends up borrowing more from lighthearted network dramas from yesteryear like “Moonlighting,” “Scarecrow and Mrs. King” and “Remington Steele,” shows where wit was more valuable than weaponry.
“I love spectacle, and we were able to do some big stunts and effects that I’m really proud of,” showrunner Matt Nix said during a virtual news conference last month, citing a high-octane scene that climaxes with the kind of car flip that could tie up traffic for a week. “But the thing that really matters to me is the spirit of the thing. It’s a show about family, about a group of people that really care about each other and are working through real issues. We’re inviting the audience to laugh and have some fun and remember that whatever insanity might be going on in the world, we are all human beings trying to do our best.”
That approach is practical. The budget for the pilot episode was 5% of what Cameron had to play with — and that was back in the mid-’90s.
It may also come as a relief to viewers who are convinced that network dramas are on a mission to gross them out.
Shows like “The Blacklist,” and “NCIS” have occasional wisecracks, but it’s tough to giggle after just watching someone get shot in the left eyeball.
“Lies,” on the other hand, is about as disturbing as a Road Runner cartoon. Its idea of a shocking moment is a cameo from original cast member Tom Arnold.
“We’ve been through a period where there’s a lot of television out there that’s sort of like vegetables TV,” Nix said. “This is more like dessert TV.”
But the lighthearted approach only works if the casting is just right.
Nix’s previous TV series, “Burn Notice,” which ran on USA from 2007 to 2013, benefited greatly from the chemistry among cast members Jeffrey Donovan, Bruce Campbell and Gabrielle Anwar.
That magic is missing here, despite an impressive comic performance from Gonzaga. Her looks and fast-patter delivery may remind you of Mila Kunis. She’s so charming that you can almost overlook her character’s all-too-quick transformation into a kickbutt agent.
In last month’s news conference, Howey swooned over his co-star, calling her the funniest person he has ever met.
Onscreen, Howey is overmatched. His character is so bland that you wonder if he just got evicted from “Melrose Place” for being too square. He makes Schwarzenegger look like a comic genius.
It’s unlikely that the TV series will come close to matching the success of the big-screen “Lies,” the third-highest-grossing movie of 1994 (only “The Lion King” and “Forrest Gump” reaped more). But those who crave their action without the blood will be tempted to give it a try. And they’ll be back.