USA Network
Piper Perabo stars in "Covert Affairs."

Four decades ago, Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) entered the male-dominated world of TV news and discovered she could make it after all.

It's at least a little bit like Mary Richards joins the CIA when the series "Covert Affairs" premieres.

Yes, it's about a woman who joins the CIA. And, yes, Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) is smart, speaks lots of languages and is seemingly capable.

But she's treated like, well, a woman. And on this show, women are second-class citizens.

Hey, just minutes into the episode, one of the CIA trainers tells her, "You did better on the driving course than any woman we've ever had."

When Annie arrives at CIA headquarters, she's told that men outnumber women 4-1. And that "the CIA is not an easy place to be a woman."

Annie goes under cover almost immediately because she can "pass for a call girl."

Yes, her first assignment is to pretend she's a hooker. And the advice from her boss — a woman — for when she meets the Russian agent with whom she has a rendezvous is, "Don't sleep with him."


Geez, any minute you expect Lou Grant to pop up and tell her that she's got spunk.

It really wouldn't come as a surprise that the executive producers and co-executive producers of "Covert Affairs" are all men, right?

Without giving too much away, let's just say that, although Annie is tough, smart and capable, she keeps getting saved. By men.

Annie gets a lot of help from Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham of "Ugly Betty"), who is a blind CIA agent.

"Blind guy leading you around the CIA. Insert ironic joke here," Auggie says.

She gets bossed around by the one other woman we see much of at the CIA, Joan (Kari Matchett of "Invasion"), the head of the CIA's Domestic Protection Division.

Joan is more than a bit of a shrew. She's convinced that her husband, Arthur (Peter Gallagher of "The O.C.") — the CIA's director of Clandestine Services — is cheating on her.

Did I mention that the guys running "Covert Affairs" are all guys?

And it turns out that her sudden promotion to field agent even before she's finished her CIA training has something to do with — you guessed it! — a man.

For the most part, "Covert Affairs" is harmless fluff, with some nice action scenes.

But it seems somehow more fitted for 1970 — maybe 1950 — than 2010.

If you watch …

What: "Covert Affairs"

When: Tuesday, 11 p.m.

Channel: USA

The bottom line: This is a surprisingly sexist action series about a female CIA agent.