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Chaos ensues on CBS

I spy, you spy, they're all spying on Chaos. CBS photo

Premiering: Friday, April 1st at 7 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Freddy Rodriguez, Eric Close, James Murray, Tim Blake Nelson, Carmen Ejogo, Christina Cole, Kurtwood Smith
Produced by: Tom Spezialy, Brett Ratner, Martha Haight

Let it first be said that the new CBS "comedic drama" Chaos is a shock to the network's systematic scheduling of procedural crime or legal dramas in all other one-hour slots not occupied by an unscripted "reality" series or 60 Minutes.

Which means that this nice try at spoofing the CIA is outnumbered 10-1 by the three CSI series, the pairs of NCIS and Criminal Minds series, The Mentalist, The Good Wife and Blue Bloods.

The four principal males of Chaos, which supplants The Defenders as Friday night's lead-off hitter, also are in the business of thwarting bad guys. But the show is only half-serious about this, providing ample time for gamesmanship and duplicity with a CIA sub-unit known as Clandestine Administration and Oversight Services.

Good luck remembering that, even though they skip the "h" and it's not nearly the mouthful THRUSH used to be on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. For the record, it stood for the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity while U.N.C.L.E. was short for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. But we tarry.

Chaos begins with wide-eyed Rick Martinez (Freddy Rodriguez from Six Feet Under) showing up for his first day of work.

"Do you need to see my fluids?" he asks the gate security guard, referring to the gumbo his mother has made him for lunch. A "suspicious fluids" alert ensues before Rick reports to curt CIA bossman H.J. Higgins (Kurtwood Smith), who tells him his job's been cut for budget reasons. But wait. Rick can remain in place if he agrees to become a mole within the Office of Disruptive Services, which Higgins decries as "a cancer fueled by feckless ego."

This is a far-fetched premise but so were U.N.C.L.E. and another successful TV spy series, Get Smart. Still, will a basic CBS audience bite? Or will Martha and Fred Stayathome spend this hour playing pinochle until the real good guys show up later Friday on CSI: NY and Blue Bloods?

Dedicated CBS crime series viewers at least will recognize Chaos co-star Eric Close from his long association with the network's Without A Trace. Close plays rogue operative Michael Dorset, whose partners in deception are a jaunty Scotsman named Billy Collins (James Murray) and low-key "human weapon" Casey Malick (Tim Blake Nelson).

A comely spy also is a necessary ingredient. And Chaos has her in Fay Carson (Carmen Ejogo), who may or may not be an ally of the initially easily duped Rick. "You've heard of office politics?" she asks him. "Ours come with poison pills and guns."

The pilot for Chaos was filmed in Los Angeles, with initial intentions to film the series in Dallas if CBS bit further. But the network and producers ultimately opted for Vancouver, which offers more varied locales for the weekly out-of-country missions. Or at least that was the cover story during a January interview session in Pasadena, CA.

In Friday's premiere, the rescue of a kidnapped journalist in Sudan is slap-happy and seems slapped together. There's no real jeopardy, even when a finger chopping is close at hand. But Rick saves the day by swallowing a live scorpion and impressing a warlord. Later comes the gunplay. Mission accomplished just in time for the boys to be dropped in another perilous venue at episode's end.

Chaos can be amusing in spots, although it's hard to envision it as a long-distance runner. It might be housing a breakout star, though. The 35-year-old Murray has been kicking around for a while, but looks capable of filling the big-screen as a leading man. For now he's the resident eye candy/rascal of Chaos -- and also the best reason to watch it.

GRADE: B-minus