by Deborah Harter Williams
The Premise: Each episode begins with “You are being watched. The government has a secret system, a machine that spies on you every hour of every day.” And that’s the good news. The premise of the series is essentially two men and a machine. The machine, designed by Mr. Finch, conducts elaborate and intrusive electronic monitoring of millions of people in order to protect the United States from terrorist attack. And it works.
The unintended consequence is that the machine also identifies data “irrelevant” to terrorism, about individuals who might be involved in potential violent crimes. It becomes Finch’s mission to prevent these crimes. But to do this he needs some muscle. And so he finds Mr. Reese, a former CIA agent, fallen on hard times.
The Performances: James Caviezel (Last Temptation of Christ) is quietly dramatic as John Reese, war-weary and wounded, taciturn and ironic. He might be Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. Larger then life, able to take down five or more opponents in hand to hand combat, he can shoot all kinds of guns with extreme accuracy and is inured to pain and torture–clearly a man with a history and mystery. Michael Emerson (Lost) is equally mysterious as reclusive billionaire Harold Finch.
The Pedigree: The show matches up the writing skill of Jonathan Nolan (famed for The Dark Knight screenplay and the mind-bending story that became the film Memento) with producer J.J. Abrams (Lost, Fringe, Star Trek Movie, 8 Millimeter). Besides his work as producer, if you look closely you’ll see he’s credited with the opening sequence which sets up the show.
The Plots: As might be expected this team presents an abundance of twisted plots, reversals and complex characters: a bad cop (Kevin Chapman–Mystic River, Rescue Me) gets blackmailed into doing good while spying on good cop and former Army interrogator (Taraji P. Henson–Hustle and Flow, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)who goes from trying to arrest Reese and Finch to helping them.
It also takes forays into the past, leaving little time bombs of information. Finch doesn’t have a limp in the flashbacks. How did his partner die? What happened to Reese in the CIA and why do they now want him eliminated? In one flashback Finch says only eight people know about the machine. Now at least one of them is dead but Reese has been added to the list. Who are the others?
The pay-off: For CBS, Person of Interest was the best-tested pilot they had in 15 years, appealing to an amazingly wide spectrum of audiences. They showed their commitment by giving the series CSI’s Thursday evening timeslot and an order for 22 episodes. The network’s faith has been rewarded as the show was a recent winner of a Peoples Choice Award for best new drama.
The Prognosis: I’m on the fence with this one. Part of me wants them to succeed because there is real talent at work here with subtle visual details, nuanced relationships and performances. On the other hand there is the danger of getting caught up in the formula: find person of interest, clone their phone, follow them until you see what the problem is, beat up bad guys. But so far, whenever I think it’s getting predictable they add another twist and another layer of complexity. It’s a balancing act–one that I’ll be watching next week.
Person of Interest is on CBS Thursday nights 9/8c. Learn more on the show’s website.
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