05/29/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
UPN (Fridays, 9 p.m. ET)
Movies and TV routinely had fun with the secret-agent genre even when Cold War tensions ran high. Here in the 21st century, with "spy spoof" a virtual redundancy, it may still be possible to steer a middle course between Austin Powers craziness and Mission: Impossible action. But a tongue-in-cheek effort like Secret Agent Man (which borrows only the theme song from the mid-'60s series Secret Agent) must meet a high threshold of quality to avoid being dismissed as a Man from U.N.C.L.E. rerun.
This show from executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) didn't pass the test when UPN aired five episodes in March and April. Seven more remain to be seen starting May 26, and you can find amusing ideas in the batch: a secret panel of "elders" (maximum age: 33) that determines the outcome of presidential elections; an agent (Dondré T. Whitfield) doing infomercials for a retractable golf club originally developed as an exotic weapon; out-of-touch Russian spies disguised as Elks Club members from Kansas. Unfortunately, lover-man agent Monk is played by the well-constructed but wooden Costas Mandylor (Players). The sexual-tension routine with Holiday (Dina Meyer), his brisk blonde colleague, lacks wit and sizzle. And often the show is overly pleased with its own irony. "Why don't we save the world first?" says Monk, when a sultry foreign operative suggests a tumble. That's just too cool.
Bottom Line: As agents go, about a 005