“The Americans” might be over — but espionage is still alive and well on TV.
“The Enemy Within,” a new NBC drama series premiering Monday (10 p.m.), follows Erica Shepherd (Jennifer Carpenter, “Dexter”) — an incarcerated former CIA operative and notorious traitor — and FBI agent Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut), who comes to her for help in catching a criminal spy.
In other words, it’s the “Silence of the Lambs” dynamic— but with spies this time.
“I think [that’s true] if you switch the gender roles,” says the show’s creator, Ken Woodruff, 39. “We weren’t thinking about [‘The Silence of the Lambs’] going in, because [Erica] is not a serial killer or a murderer. What I think is accurate is that there’s always an agenda, something beneath the surface, a level of inherent mistrust.
“To me, that’s what made the scenes between Hannibal and Clarice [in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’] sparkle.”
Woodruff says the idea for the show first came from his interest in the genre, and it grew as he dug into research on espionage.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of the spy thriller genre. The ‘Bourne’ and ‘Mission Impossible’ franchises were big influences,” he says. “But in researching this world, the idea for ‘The Enemy Within’ really started to take shape when I learned of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. They weren’t spies, they were spy hunters.
“And that’s what this show is all about,” he says. “How do you catch the smartest, most well-trained operatives in the world? I knew I wanted to see a higher caliber of villain onscreen. And that meant the women who went after these villains needed to be equally brilliant and relentless.
“In essence, our characters are hunting the Jason Bournes and James Bonds of other countries.”
Although “The Enemy Within” is set mostly in Washington, DC, it was filmed much closer to home — on sets built in the large space of the old New Jersey Devils hockey arena (the Meadowlands Arena, formerly the Izod Center.)
“Our show is set in DC but we film everything in and around New Jersey,” Woodruff says.
Of course, it’s impossible to raise the topic of espionage without thinking of the current news cycle and figures such as Maria Butina. Woodruff says he made an effort to not have the show feel like it’s “ripped from the headlines.”
“There weren’t any events per se or political things [that inspired the show,]” he says. “What I will say is there was a feeling in the zeitgeist over the last three to four years. That’s what we wanted to tap into — we wanted it to feel contemporary and fresh.
“We’re not ripped from the headlines or anything like that,” he says. “It’s more capturing that sense of anxiety that permeates the culture today.”
By Lauren Sarner