If you weren’t getting your fill of network procedural crime dramas with the CSI’s and the NCIS’s and the Law & Order’s, there’s once again a new slate of detective shows trying to push their way into the Nielsen top 20. CBS’s Person of Interest, starring Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel manages to take the format and provide just enough of a twist to make it stand out from the crowd.
The pilot episode sets up the series by pairing up former CIA agent John Reese (Caviezel) with the secretive Mr. Finch (Emerson), a wealthy businessman living off the grid and using his wealth to fight crime. Reese, who lost the love of his life years earlier, has been living on the streets in New York City, and presumed dead by the government. Finch recruits him with the promise of a job where he can stop murders and other serious crimes from taking place, tapping into Reese’s feelings about the murder of his significant other as motivation. Finch tells Reese that he built a post 9/11 super computer for the U.S. government, which was able to translate every email, phone call, video camera feed into a series of social security numbers. While The Feds use the computer to prevent future terrorist attacks, he uses it to prevent the “irrelevant” everyday crimes that don’t interest the government. The two of them will use his resources to investigate these “persons of interest”, and stop crimes before they’re committed.
In addition to the backstory and character setup, we also see Reese and Mr. Finch tackle their first case, which involves a female District Attorney they believe is the target of a murder plot. As the case is solved the audience learns the great twist of this series – that the social security number might not belong to the potential victim, but might belong to the perpetrator. While the super computer plot is somewhat silly, it is significantly more grounded then similar premises involving supernatural premonitions, ghosts, time travel, etc. The Emmy award-winning Emerson delivers a terrific performance as the mysterious and somewhat creepy billionaire turned vigilante, part Ben Linus (Lost) and part Bruce Wayne. Caviezel performs well in the pilot, and I look forward to finding out more about his character’s back story as the series progresses. Rounding out the cast is Taraji P. Henson as NYPD Detective Carter and Kevin Chapman as Detective Fusco, who is blackmailed into being Reese’s inside man at the department.
The biggest question for this series will be how much of a focus is on character development and story arc. The series has great potential to develop a mythology and big picture story like other J.J. Abrams (Lost and Fringe) hits. It equally has potential to devolve into a strict procedural detective show. Perhaps the best choice is to go for a balanced approach like House in which the central character’s story development is as much a part of the series as solving mysteries. Early flashbacks indicate that it might. It was also interesting that ten years after the attacks, the show’s premise was so centrally built around the events of 9/11. I can’t help but wonder how different this pilot might have been if not for the recent milestone anniversary.
Person of Interest, created by Jonathan Nolan and produced by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions, airs Thursdays on CBS.
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