2008-2009 has been a hard year for television, as Eli Stone and Pushing Daisies can attest. NBC, however, shares its own little world of problems, as many of its mediocre series wouldn't be given a second chance to redeem themselves ("Crusoe" comes to mind). With the economy at its current state, merely watchable series were like dead weight slowing down the network ship -- heavy programs that needed to be tossed overboard quickly to streamline their flow. My Own Worst Enemy, the Christian Slater spy vehicle, falls safely into that category: watchable, visually attractive and mildly enjoyable, but sporting enough problems to deem it a chunk of unnecessary weight.
At first glance, the premise seems a tad on the hokey side. Slater plays Henry Spivey, a clumsy, goofy, pitch-perfect family man with a wife, kids, and an unremarkable job -- adding up to a largely bland life. That, naturally, is just a cover; Henry is actually an assassin named Edward Albright, with his company being a front for the agency. Here's where it gets tricky: instead of Edward existing as both people, he has been artificially altered with a microchip that gives him a dual personality. Edward awakens at the beck and call of the agency, slumbering underneath the suburban umbrella in which Henry lives day-to-day.
Henry half-blacks out and becomes Edward with the flip of the switch, then ¬has his memory implanted with contingency answers to questions about where he's been once Henry wakes back up. It's only natural that a mistake would occur with all these awake/asleep shenanigans, and My Own Worst Enemy throws us into it with the first episode. Henry learns about Edward in the worst possible fashion: with a sniper rifle in hand and a blistering headache. He's told about his alter-ego and, with some patience, decides to operate back with his modus operandi. However, the Edward/Henry switch has essentially been broken beyond perfect repair, which makes each operation -- most overseen by like-minded dual personality Raymond (aka Tom, played well by Mike O'Malley from "Yes, Dear") -- something of a ticking timebomb awaiting Henry's arrival.
My Own Worst Enemy could go in two distinctive directions when taken at face value, whether it's down the path of a slick spy thriller or a silly hybrid comedy / action serial. It makes its decision abundantly clear in the first few episodes that it wants the audience to take it as seriously as possible, leaning on sledgehammer-style heavy writing to try and knock its audience aback. Herein lays the series' most problematic issue. It brings together a very capable cast -- including James Cromwell as the operation's head and Saffron Burroughs as Edward's on-site therapist -- into a part Bourne Identity, part Quantum Leap, part 24-style kinetic kind of dynamic, but the concentration on operating at a serious spy thriller level sucks some of the joy clean from watching Edward's story.
With each episode, the unpredictable atmosphere grows thicker and thicker with stale, stilted tension, barely taking a breath enough to let even a microbial of humor to escape. Allowing a more vibrant humor to escape could have lifted some of the pressure off of the atmosphere, but it can be pretty well agreed that "Chuck" has the humorous spy concept cornered off. Instead, it attempts to force-feed us seriousness revolving around the inevitable sex topic involving Henry and Edward (entitled "Hummingbird" for a now-infamous, fabricated sex position), and it succeeds in making it watchable. But, as previously mentioned, being watchable doesn't mean that it's appointment television.
It's a shame that the tonality doesn't come together, because Christian Slater is rather good as Edward / Henry. His twitchy aura has a difficult time finding a comfortable range in some productions -- working well in True Romance and Heathers -- but it molds to the "malfunctioning" spy exceedingly well. As the storyline progresses and his dual characters are forced to communicate with each other via cellphone video messages and the like, he's given a few instances where he gets to be a smidge on the humorous side. And it works. He's able to grasp tension in many of his scenes and make them his own, adding his own jerky panache to each one gracefully.
Slater makes My Own Worst Enemy a pleasing little thrillride, but patience slowly wears thin as the tension continues to mount throughout its nine episodes. Henry and Edward flip-flop back and forth between their grievances with each other's lives in a way that, though well-conceptualized with scenarios like Edward discussing having another child with Henry's wife and Henry's participation in detainee interrogations, begin to grow repetitive. In turn, the espionage plotlines grow a little tiresome as well; even with solid guest appearances from Before the Rain's Rade Serbedzija and Predator's Bill Duke as odd-and-end denizens in the spy underworld, this ramped-up, kinetic energy that the series barrels forward exhausts its audience.
At the end, My Own Worst Enemy has the plug pulled very abruptly on the series. It leaves the audience with very little in the answers department, with a hefty cliffhanger that needs revisiting down the line. Maybe the creators believed that they might be able to return to this Slater's vehicle once the climate calms down, thus putting it on the shelf instead of cleanly tying a bow on top of a complete package. Many shows with this kind of season might easily get a second chance -- a second season, even -- to clean up rough edges. With a little polish and a thinner atmosphere, it'd very well be able to find a place in between "24" and "Chuck" as a hybrid program. My Own Worst Enemy, as seen here in this Complete Series presentation, is an incomplete package of a promisingly suspenseful premise, sporting fairly clever writing and a strong outing from Christian Slater that get swallowed up by crossed tonal wires.
Universal's presentation of NBC's My Own Worst Enemy comes packaged in a standard double-disc keepcase, sporting an attractive black-and-white split artwork with a slipcase covering the outside. Menu presentation is a little bland, replicating the artwork from the cover. It's a bare-bones release, only containing the nine episodes -- five on the first disc four on the second disc -- inside the presentation with nary a special feature.
Video and Audio:
Presented in its originally-aired 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 televisions, My Own Worst Enemy has a few moments of impressive standard-definition clarity. Crispness of details is handled well, providing some impressive visuals across the board -- especially within the attractive industrial interior shots within the base. There are a few contrast and noise issues that include wavering color solidity and extremely noise black levels early on, but the attention to detail with close-ups, set design, and wardrobe, along with some rather engaging exterior shots near both sandy and snowy locales, make Universal's transition from high-definition to standard-definition for this series admirable.
Audio, however, isn't nearly as solid. The English Dolby 5.1 track feels more like an embellished Stereo track than anything, staying largely to the front with some rather blatant attempts at surround stretching to the rear. The sound has an overall metallic, thin presence that doesn't offer a very welcoming sound design. Verbal clarity was muffled at times, often sinking down into the mix to difficult-to-hear levels. Though they get close, the sound never drowns out any of the dialogue completely. Sound effects like gunshots and shattering of glass sounded fine, if dynamically underwhelming. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
Christian Slater makes the most of My Own Worst Enemy, making each episode on its nine-installment run a tight, stiff slice of dual-personality spy tension. However, as the series progresses, the show's thick demeanor and lack of impending appointment-worthy panache caused it to be cut off in almost mid-sentence fashion. As a result, this Complete Series collection of My Own Worst Enemy is a curtailed, imperfect hunk of decent espionage thrills -- suitable for a Rental, sure, but little more. If the prospect of a return to Edward / Henry's life looked more promising, it might garnish a slightly higher recommendation.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site