October 6, 2011

279: Interest-ing

Let's talk about a new fall TV series.  Of the shows I've checked out (New Girl, Pan Am, Person of Interest, part of Suburgatory) Pan Am is the winner in terms of quality (after two episodes), and I still have hope for New Girl, in spite of literally cringing at some of Jess (Zooey Deschanel)'s antics.  But I'm most interested in the world and mythology of Person of Interest.  A show about preventing violent crime in post-9/11 America using stolen information from a government threat-assessment computer?  A J.J. Abrams project with Lost veteran Michael Emerson as one of the stars?  I was all in from the get-go.  The fact that Jonathan "Brother of Christopher" Nolan, co-writer of The Dark Knight, is the creator is just icing on the cake.
Person of Interest's Reese (Jim Caviezel) and Finch (Michael Emerson)
via TV Fanatic
Here's the short version of the premise: in the wake of 9/11, a rich genius computer programmer (Michael Emerson) built the U.S. government a Big Brother machine to identify potential terrorist threats.  The machine, however, identified all potential violent crime, so the "irrelevant," small-scale crimes are disregarded -- and sent to the programmer, Finch.  He gets a list of Social Security numbers of people who will be involved in crimes, either as a victim or perpetrator.  Finch recruits an ex-CIA agent, John Reese (Jim Caviezel), to do the boots-on-the-ground work of preventing these crimes using a combination of technical savvy and old-fashioned brute force.

Much more under the jump. (I started rambling. Whoops.)

The writing is a little spotty -- if I'm thinking about how the lines looked on the page, it's too stiff -- and the show seems to have a preoccupation with making sure people know exactly what the premise of the show is ("If the machine gave us her number, it means she's going to be in trouble, and soon!"), as though they assume we haven't seen the previous episodes (which may be a fair enough assumption, this early in the season).  But once the story really gets started, there are a fair number of twists and enough action to keep me engaged as a viewer.  In spite of some questionable dialogue -- and some that is so British that it's jarring to hear it from American actors -- Jonathan Nolan has managed to surprise me in every episode so far, which I love.  I've been watching procedurals for a couple decades, and if I can't predict the twist at the twenty-minute mark, chances are I'll commit to the show, just to see what the writers can come up with.

I'm much more impressed with Emerson as an actor than I am with Caviezel, which is interesting -- Caviezel is ostensibly the big-name movie actor, but his delivery can occasionally sound like he's reciting his grocery list.  Against Emerson, who is always colorful and engaging (and has the benefit of Finch's pronounced limp to give the character a distinct physicality), Caviezel's performance is a little bland.  He is, however, aesthetically pleasing, and I appreciate his grizzled good looks.  (What?  I'm only human.)  Of course, anyone who watched Michael Emerson as Ben Linus on Lost knows that he can do the full spectrum.  I still remember spending weeks trying to figure out whether or not he was lying when "Henry Gale" was first introduced.

There's a third star, Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson, who plays Carter, a NYPD detective intent on tracking down Reese.  I understand the reasoning behind the character; it makes sense to have an indication that someone notices what Finch and Reese are doing (because you can't really run around New York, firing flash grenades into oncoming traffic, without someone noticing), but Carter's storyline always feels like it's been shoehorned into a complete episode, like they realized in the editing room that they needed some women on the show.  Tonight's episode (the show's third) did a better job of integrating Detective Carter into the story, but unless the writers can find a way to keep her involved without making her Ahab chasing the white whale, she's going to feel superfluous very quickly.

In conclusion, some stray observations:
  • The awful fake beard they glued onto Jim Caviezel in the pilot made me realize that he's basically an upmarket Matthew Fox.  I wonder if all J.J. Abrams' TV leading men have to match the salt-and-peppered-fortysomething model in order to get the job.
  • I have a feeling the guest stars are going to be the roll call of New York actors -- Kalinda's pet detective from The Good Wife's first season and the late Captain Montgomery from Castle -- and there's already been one Lost alum (Goodwin!).  I'll look forward to seeing hey-it's-that-guy actors over the course of the season.
  • I read a review of the second episode that mentioned the show needed a Big Bad.  That is, an unusually powerful antagonist who pulls the strings of lesser bad guys over a longer period of time (the Quantum to Finch and Reese's Bond, if you will).  It looks like we got one at the end of the third episode, so I'm interested to see where they're going with "Elias."


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