Moving Back In With the Family On Screen

Annie Walker, the main character in 'Covert Affairs.'

Covert Affairs, which I liked last season for its plot arc focused on intelligence community leaks to the Washington Post and its generally amiable cast, returned last night with yet another story about the wacky problems of hiding the fact that you’re a spy from your sister when you happen to live in her guest house. I understand that the whole reason the character lives in her sister’s house is to have a convenient mechanism of generating exactly those kinds of storylines, though of course there would be more variety if Annie had friends, or a boyfriend who didn’t sport stubble that does more to indicate he’s a jerk than any of his acting, or a cat, or visiting relatives who produced actual wacky hijinks a la Maxwell Smart’s experience in “My Nephew The Spy.” But there’s something a little odd that the show has never tried to invent an actual character justification for why Annie lives with her sister, much in the same way it’s never clear why Alison lives with her sister and her family in Knocked Up.

If male characters did this, it would be a clear signifier that they’re slackers, but both Annie and Alison are bright, upwardly mobile, even professionally extraordinary. On Twitter last night, someone I was talking to suggested student loans, but the CIA’s currently running a student loan repayment pilot program, there’s good public service debt forgiveness, and starting CIA salaries aren’t peanuts, so Annie could probably afford a place on her own even if she’s not in one of the fancier neighborhoods in DC. Do we feel differently about the prospect of women living with their sisters or with family on the grounds that they need chaperoning? Again, in Annie’s case, the people who probably need protecting are actually Annie’s family, especially if she becomes a target, and the presence of all those other people poses a real risk to Annie’s stash of passports and foreign currency. I wonder if the show’s setting up a plot arc to that effect with Annie’s panic about a break-in last night. Or maybe Annie just really likes her family.

Either way, in a world where a lot of young people are moving home in a miserable economy, it would be nice to see a show or movie do actual character work around that particular life setup. It doesn’t have to be a huge part of the story, but it’s a quick way to add some insight into who a lead is. Moving home isn’t something most people see as optimal, and filling in the little irritations of coming back home after college isn’t hard but it is relatable. But if a character is choosing to move home either out of insecurity or love for their family, that’s unique, too, and worth drawing out a bit.