Feature film attitude and quality has landed at CBS on Thursday nights, and the name of the sleek missile is Person of Interest. The pilot show for this series aired September 22, 2011 and left a huge and welcome dent in the weak terra firma of the TV police/crime genre.
This new series is one of those rare finds that makes you want to tell everyone you know about it. Starring Jim Caviezel, Emmy winner Michael Emerson, and academy award nominee Taraji P. Henson, the pilot pulls in the viewer with a story line that intrigues and entertains in a big way. This plot has legs and enough twists to ward off the kind of boredom offered up by the discord of other shows of its type.
But wait. There are no other shows quite like it. Typical TV fare involving cops and crimes, plods through cloned lines of storytelling, a threadbare plotting formula learned at the Dragnet University. Person of Interest doesn’t look, feel or sound like anything currently on the tube. This show is blessed with all the riches of those big budget films, and offers so many surprises you’ll be OMGing straight through to the end of the hour. Are there implausible moments? Yes, just like there are in blockbuster movies. But when you’re cruising along with the story at Mach 1, you don’t stop to ask, “Really?”
Filmmakers and actors with honed skills and extraordinary talent make Person of Interest the jewel that it is. Writer, actor, director, producer J.J. Abrams, creator of other TV series like Lost, Fringe, Alias and more, steps up to the plate with a better swing than ever. Teamed with writer Jonathan Nolan, the two demonstrate that weeknight TV can be exciting and unique.
The three major actors expertly deliver their crisp dialogue and carve out real characters from mere words on pages. Critically acclaimed for his role as Jesus in The Passion of Christ, Jim Caviezel stars as former CIA agent John Reese, who has lost his way and is in need of guidance. Mr. Finch is just the man to provide it. Played by Michael Emerson, the actor whose Benjamin Linus character quietly sauntered into early episodes of Lost and ultimately hijacked the storyline, Finch is a monied man with an altruistic agenda. Or so it seems. It’s too early to decide.
The diverse and staggering acting talent of Taraji P. Henson is immediately apparent on this show if you ever saw her in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. She plays New York Police officer Carter, a person sure to be a thorn in Reese and Finch’s sides. After one episode, you can’t wait to see just what kind of shenanigans these characters will offer up in the weeks to come.
So what’s the appeal? What kind of TV show could warrant so much praise? The details of the story target and hit the nerve of the audience. It’s centered around security, the kind we’ve all become far too familiar with since the 911 disaster. Our lives have changed and we know there is surveillance on street corners and in nooks and crannies we haven’t even thought about. But we also know that we’re outside the loop when it comes to the kind of advanced technology our government agencies have at their disposal.
In Person of Interest, Finch, a software genius, has a one-of-a-kind program tucked away in his computer, one that will identify people about to be involved in a crime, and it’s made possible through pattern recognition. Since pattern recognition technology is not something from James Bond’s unrealistic tool box, but actually in use today, the TV story software and it’s capabilities do not seem all that far fetched, although we have yet to see how it works. Individuals implicated in looming crimes are identified only by their social security number, and the conflict which will no doubt carry from episode to episode, is that the target cited could be a victim, or the criminal.
Finch’s raison d’etre is to stop the crimes before they can be carried out. Much like Lost’s bespectacled, mousy Benjamin Linus, Finch is a limping, myopic non-action hero, who won’t be donning a wet suit to swim to the rescue of a damsel in distress anytime soon. So, who does a man like this turn to, to act as his muscle? Former CIA agent John Reese, trained in covert operations.
Of course, everything will not go as smoothly as suggested by the teaming of these two unlikely partners. Many factors could shoot holes in the happy fabric of their union, the least of which is Reese’s questionable stability. Will ghosts from his past interfere with his mission as Finch’s strong arm? Flashbacks in the pilot suggest Reese has lost a loved one in the nightmare that was 911. But for that matter, there’s a hint that Finch is also grieving a loss. Quite a pair indeed.
If you’re worried that two guys teaming up to save potential victims of crime can’t hold up for long as the single premise of a series, I have three words – wait, there’s more. One of the juicy elements that can’t be denied, even in this rookie pilot, is the promise of intervention by Big Brother. The eye in the sky is ever present, as if it is another character in the story. It imposes a sense of threat to Finch’s mission and makes us wonder where it will fully surface as a nemesis in future episodes.
Pilots for any show are some of the most difficult to write. So many details must be fed to the audience; how the characters got to where they are at this moment in time, their motivations, exposing their demons, revealing their emotion, and building their likability. It’s a huge choreographic task to accomplish in one small chunk of time and it’s sometimes not possible to ring all the bells.
When the pilot for Lost first aired, many thought the premise was interesting but they couldn’t connect with the characters. With some shows, time is the paintbrush that strokes grey characters and gives them full colorful. Audiences who commit to watching from the first airing are rewarded when they finally start seeing all the warts and weaknesses revealed in characters, as well as plots that develop far beyond expectations. Person of Interest has made enough headway in one episode to carry a healthy audience with it.
If you want to witness TV at its finest, tune in to CBS on Thursday night. And if you missed the pilot, you can watch the full episode online.