Sunday, December 18, 2011

Interesting Person

If you follow me on Twitter, you already know that one of the new TV shows I've wholeheartedly embraced this past fall season has been CBS' Person of Interest. The twisty premise of the skein, produced by JJ Abrams and created by Dark Knight co-writer Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher), hinges on a mysterious computer outputting a single social security number every week that's connected to some unknown crime that is likely to occur in the near future. The number represents either a perpetrator or a victim, and it's up to the vigilante duo of The Passion's Jim Caviezel (the brawn) and Lost's Micheal Emerson (the brains), to follow the clues and prevent said crime from happening.

If that description sounds either perplexing or simply uninteresting, I can't say I blame you. In truth, it's one of those premises that risks falling all over itself by being too-clever by half. The brilliance of the show, however, lies in how it takes that conceit and repurposes it into the latticework upon which to hang what is one of the more involving, cerebral techno thrillers to emerge in quite awhile. More than that, it's essentially a superhero series in disguise, with Caviezel, as mysterious, ass-kicking former Special Ops agent John Reese, the "Batman" of this diad, and Emerson, enigmatic genius Harold Finch, the "Alfred" directing traffic from behind an array of digital display screens. 

While it's had the same growing pains as any new show striving to find its footing during its first year, what I've most appreciated is how the creatives have striven to balance the "procedural" side of its identity -- Reese and Finch get the number, work to solve the case -- with its role as a "mythology" series -- the parcelling-out of the backstories of the leads in dribs and drabs, revealing the tragic histories that lead up to their first meeting with one another in the pilot episode (which you can watch online, along with the rest of the episodes thus far). In a piece at i09, Jane Anders makes the case for why the series is so consistently compelling an experience, warts-and-all:
...Person of Interest is not a masterpiece, by any means. The dialogue is frequently somewhat wooden. Some of the episodes have definitely been better than others, and there has been some lazy plotting here and there. The hero, Reese, is probably the least interesting character on the show, except when he's intimidating thugs, and we've learned a lot of boring stuff about his backstory. Reese, played by Jim Caviezel, has one facial expression most of the time. The show is still definitely finding its feet. 
But it's fun to watch, which is more than you can say for a lot of other shows that have come along recently. And as an exploration of vigilantism and how a lone hero uses his unusual power — fairly standard superhero themes — it's actually pretty fascinating. The power of knowing what crimes are going to happen before they happen allows Reese and Finch to help people, and at least sometimes to stop bad things from happening, but it also causes them to make mistakes and do more harm than good.
Read the rest of Anders' thoughts here. Although it ended its midseason run this past week, the series has benefitted greatly from CBS' continued ratings fortunes (especially for the net's library of procedurals), and as a result has been picked up for the remainder of the year. Oddly though even with its ratings success it's flown mostly under the radar, with many in its potential audience it as just another cookie cutter entry in that same list of procedurals. To think of it as such is a shame, as its pedigree, cast, and execution have all helped make Person of Interest a thinking person's action show, that rarest of entities in today's TV landscape.

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