Steve Howey and Ginger Gonzaga Series Doesn’t Pack a Punch

Feb 24, 2023

After almost 30 years, the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis blockbuster True Lies is finally getting the small-screen treatment on CBS, but with a much-needed update and twist since it actually didn’t age well. Inspired by the James Cameron action-comedy of the same name, the peak dad TV series follows suit from the original with suburban husband and wife duo, Harry and Helen Tasker — played by Steve Howey and Ginger Gonzaga, respectively — down and out in a relationship rut. But while the reboot works hard to shy from its original and rightfully so as it perpetuated demonizing stereotypes in a world pre-9/11, the series is extensively campy, light on humor, and doesn’t pack the punch it needs to set itself apart from its predecessor.

Across the first few episodes made available to the press ahead of its March 1 series premiere, True Lies has its moments, thanks to energetic performances from Howey and Gonzaga really carrying it through. But despite their efforts, the series doesn’t quite contain the edge and excitement fans came to love with the ‘90s classic. Given that it’s made for the small screen and budgets are also a real thing to consider, the action-comedy does its best to bring the big screen to appointment television with explosions, people dangling from helicopters, and cool kills care of Tae Bo. Brought to life by Matt Nix (Burn Notice) and executive produced by Cameron, Mary Viola (Terminator Salvation), and McG (Charlie’s Angels), the series puts a spin on the former story, previously seeing the elite international spy trying his hardest to keep his profession a secret from his wife. However, in this multiverse, Helen stumbles into the business and becomes a part of her husband’s “affairs,” which makes for a promising arc and one that finds the two reigniting that much-needed sizzle to their emotionally distant marriage.

Image via Paramount

Related: ‘True Lies’ Cast and Character Guide: Who Stars in the TV Adaptation

With that hopeful start aside, True Lies is a series that doesn’t hide its urgency to really work for the audience and in some ways, it works too hard. Showcasing exotic locales and sleek technology (something we all wonder if the CIA is really able to replicate), Harry’s team is one of the best and manages to prove that to us in its first mission ahead of the cold open. While on his mission for a covert agency called the Omega Sector headed by Director Trilby (Beverly D’Angelo), Harry is also a devoted husband trying his best to balance the work-life spectrum. Fielding texts from his wife through his best friend and the team’s tech specialist Gib (Omar Miller) while killing bad guys and stealing important government data, Harry proves he can have it all without the strain.

Meanwhile, his wife Helen is none the wiser. In the midst of her job as a language professor, juggling duties at home and tending to their two children, Dana (Anna Didion) and Jake (Lucas Jaye), Helen is bored and unfilled with her routine and wants an adrenaline rush. But just how bored is she? Falling down the rabbit hole of motherhood tropes, Helen is the cliché minivan mom who drives 100 miles per hour in school zones and whispers the scandalous details to her best friend after yoga classes. While that kind of joke could have played simplistically in 1994, it leans toward a juvenile one here that is a natural gauge of the show’s formulaic humor and runs into jokes your parents think are funny. Though she confides in her friend about feeling less of a flame in her life, she also notes how her relationship with Harry has hit a dry spell. The two are no longer fun-loving and carefree.

After all, Harry is a computer consultant within the insurance industry similar to his 1994 counterpart, always away from home and traveling around the world. But it’s this absurd job that makes it sound like he’s absolutely cheating on his wife — like, are we kidding? Amid an age of remote jobs and companies saving money post-pandemic, desk jobs getting international travel perks feel almost overlooked by showrunners, and we’re all gaslighting Gongaza’s Helen in the process. In what might be considered an homage to the original, as Schwarzenegger’s Harry very much had this job in 1994, it made sense then, but Howey’s version needed the update for a more realistic purview because this is a terrible cover.

Image via Paramount

Naturally, her friend suggests that he might be cheating, which worries Helen. Upon his return from “Cleveland” (which, to the showrunners’ credit, is one of the more boring cities that aligns well with a job like his), Helen confronts him and makes him aware of her concerns. Trying his hardest to ensure she is not overwrought by their relationship, he invites her on his next work trip to Paris. Much to the chagrin of Gib in bringing her along to their mission, it’s here that the movie’s similarities end and the show gets its twist. During their dreamy Parisian date night, Harry’s cover gets blown following an earlier event that sends trouble for the pair and finds Helen discovering her husband is actually an international spy, and all those times he was away from his family was actually him going off to save the world — or in one case, the president. Suddenly propelled into a life of danger and adventure, True Lies instead integrates Helen as part of the story rather than segmenting her out. Brought into the agency as a new recruit, things should become more fun here, but it’s a lot of the same old for the audience and the writing just feels weak. The two bicker on the job about home life, talking plumbing and the kids, and it runs into a Groundhog Day loop that is also way too predictable. The comedy, though conveyed effectively by Howey and Gonzaga, is way too generic and gets overtly silly at times.

CBS is no stranger to adapting previous material for success as seen with its sitcom Ghosts, but True Lies just falls flat in carving out its own identity. It doesn’t reach the heights of Cameron’s original, and in some ways, it needs to, especially if this version is intended to course-correct the controversies leading from the first. For years, True Lies felt like the kind of movie that deserved a sequel thanks to Schwarzenegger and Curtis, and news of the TV series was truly exciting at the time. But if the latest network iteration proves anything with its string of campiness and light laughs, it’s that some stories should stay on the big screen.

Rating: C-

True Lies premieres March 1 on CBS.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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