For personal reasons, spy series have always intrigued me. And we've seen that humor can mix with espionage (see Burn Notice). So why is Chaos neither intriguing nor funny?
For one, it's just too cute. Like the main character, fresh-faced CIA newbie Rick Martinez (Freddy Rodriguez), the entire pilot is overeager. It's trying too hard to be funny, which has the effect of making it painfully not funny. For example, I gather that we're supposed to be amused that we're talking about Clandestine Administration and Oversight Services, because we can call it CHAOS, which is also the title of the show - but all I can think is that someone is pleased with themselves for making up a cute acronym. This is a trend throughout. It feels as if everyone is very aware that they're making a sitcom, and they're trying to go from one joke to the next, hoping that if they throw enough material at you, something will work.
None of the characters are particularly distinctive either, which is a shame because there's not a half bad bunch of actors in the cast. The problem is that they've all done better work. Eric Close, who should just get his own office on the CBS lot since this is the fourth CBS series he's done (after The Magnificent Seven, Now & Again, and Without A Trace) is a great actor, but I think he's miscast as team leader Michael Dorset. His character is supposed to be the tough boss, but Close is just too genial and likeable to for me to believe it. As Rick, Rodriguez is so permanently wound and/or clueless that he's sometimes overacting. Kurtwood Smith could have phoned in his role as Agency bigshot H.J. Higgins. James Murray, who plays Scottish transplant Billy Collins, looked more at home in Primeval. And with all the things Tim Blake Nelson has done, I find myself asking, "Why did he choose this?" There are no groundbreaking performances here.
Then again, for that, these actors would need better material. There's nothing in Chaos that you haven't seen in other workplace comedies, except for the exotic locales. Other shows have done it better. The first ten minutes consist of almost nothing but rapid-fire exposition, most of it in the form of pithy quips, all of it faster than anything Aaron Sorkin could've written and much less memorable. When the show tries later on to introduce some drama, we've been inundated with so much comedy that it's a jarring tonal switch. The series also wastes a potentially great premise. At least when ABC did Spy Game in 1997, that show had, to quote main character Lorne Cash, "big rooms full of cool stuff." With a background in intelligence studies, I can only guess that the writers of Chaos are trying to poke fun at the real CIA and not a romanticized one, but if there was ever a case for dramatic license, this is it. Audiences love spy gadgets, and they make a better distraction than jokes about people's desk chairs.
Chaos is supposed to be part spy show, part workplace comedy, and part drama. Unfortunately, in trying to be so many things and doing none of them particularly well, it ends up as a forgettable mess. If you're interested in a comedy with spies, you're much better off tuning into FX's Archer instead.