Universal // 2008 // 380 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // April 24th, 2009
One man. Two very different lives.
In the months leading up to the debut of My Own Worst Enemy, NBC advertized it heavily, putting special emphasis on movie star Christian Slater's (True Romance) starring turn. The series hit the airwaves on October 13, 2008, never caught on with audiences, and was cancelled two months later after nine episodes.
My Own Worst Enemy is about Edward Albright (Slater), a highly skilled spy working for an organization known as Janus. Albright is part of a special program that divided him into two people. His alter ego is Henry Spivey, a mild-mannered efficiency expert with all of the trappings of a comfortable suburban life: a beautiful wife (Mädchen Amick, Twin Peaks), a nice home, and two kids. Problems arise when the computer chip in Edward/Henry's brain that Janus uses to switch each of the personalities off and on malfunctions. Henry begins to show up during Edward's deadly missions, while Edward is often left to take Henry's daughter shopping for a prom dress or (oh, the horror!) make love to Henry's wife. Wishing to keep her program alive, Edward's supervisor, Mavis Heller (Alfre Woodard, Scrooged) allows him to remain an active agent and hides the technical glitch from her boss, Alistair Trumbull (James Cromwell, Babe). Edward's partner, Raymond Carter (Mike O'Malley, Yes, Dear) -- whose alter ego is Henry's fellow efficiency expert, Tom Grady -- must contend with Henry's incompetence as a secret agent as well as a wife (Missy Yager, Mad Men) who mistakes his frequent out-of-town adventures with a secret life of marital infidelity. The odd mix of (literally) domestic squabbles and international intrigue is punctuated with a subplot involving the death of Edward's parents -- the mysterious event that compelled the former military man to sign up for Janus' brain-tampering experiment.
Anchored by Slater, Woodard, and Cromwell, My Own Worst Enemy has one of the strongest casts of any television drama in recent history. Amick, Saffron Burrows (Deep Blue Sea), and Mindy Sterling (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery) deliver strong supporting performances as Edward's psychiatrist, and Henry's wife and boss, respectively. After making his name playing slobs like Jimmy in the sitcom Yes, Dear and Boston sports fanatic "The Rick" in a series of ESPN commercials, Mike O'Malley is surprisingly good in a dramatic role as Edward/Henry's fellow bifurcated secret agent, Raymond/Tom. My Own Worst Enemy also delivers solid production values and excellent cinematography as television shows go. Edward's adventures in the Middle East in the "High Crimes and Turducken" episode look a bit stage-bound, but exteriors meant to represent Eastern and Western Europe are impressive and beautifully shot. Taking its cue from 24, the series' action is great (and often surprisingly brutal and bloody). The espionage plotlines are frequently taut and compelling.
Unfortunately, the fine performances, solid production design, and rocking action can't overcome a central conceit that wears thin by the third or fourth episode. The show never adequately explains why Janus wants agents with two personalities in the first place (at one point, Edward claims it allows him to have a normal life without affecting his commitment to espionage, but that makes no sense since Henry has the normal life, not Edward). The hoops the organization must jump through in order to maintain their spies' cover lives are absurd to the extreme -- imagine if the CIA spent half of its time and energy micro-managing domestic squabbles caused by its agents' wives feeling neglected because of their husbands' alter-egos' super-secret trips to the other side of the world to carry out assassinations and whatnot. Does that sound like a recipe for water-tight national security to you? Me neither. Worse yet, in the second episode of the series, Janus' inability to control the switch that activates Edward and deactivates Henry nearly gets one of their agents killed as well as botching an operation because Henry is about as incompetent as one would expect of an efficiency expert who awakes in the middle of a dangerous scenario involving espionage and firearms. The idea that Woodard's spy chief would keep Edward/Henry active and hide his problem from her superior is too much to swallow -- at least in a show that plays as a straight drama. Based on its premise, My Own Worst Enemy should have been a tongue-in-cheek comedy-action show. The spy action is satisfying, but the suburban shenanigans, built as they are on misunderstandings and misdirection, feel like Three's Company minus the zany. Like Henry and Edward, the show's two halves are incompatible misfits.
This complete series box set contains all nine episodes of the show, spread across two discs:
* "Hello, Henry"
* "That is Not My Son"
* "The Night Train to Moscow"
* "High Crimes and Turducken"
* "Down Rio Way"
* "Love in All the Wrong Places"
* "Henry and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day"
The set is exactly what you'd expect of a network's last-ditch attempt to grab a few more pennies from a failed series for which they'd had high hopes. The episodes look decent, though not spectacular. The presentation is 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Detail is solid but not eye-popping. Colors are accurate and attractive. Audio is a Dolby 5.1 mix that presents clear dialogue, effects, and music but doesn't rock the house. The entire soundstage is put to use, but directional panning is non-existent.
There are no extras.
I can't imagine who would want to buy this set. Despite a great cast, My Own Worst Enemy was mired in a lame premise that prevented any reasonable suspension of disbelief and ensured that it never built a sizable enough audience to stay in production. Since NBC dumped the show midway through its first season, this set ends with a cliffhanger that wraps up exactly zero of the series' many plots and subplots. Taking the time to watch the episodes once is a questionable endeavor. It's difficult to imagine why anyone would want to revisit them. If you're curious, catch the show on Hulu.
Guilty as charged.
Review content copyright © 2009 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 380 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated