September 30, 2011

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “Person Of Interest”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and production of episodes for the regular season:  a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover in the off-season) give plenty of notes, both helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads.  The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting and even story.  Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular episodes of this year’s new series as well.
Previously… on PERSON OF INTEREST:  John Reese (Jim Caviezel) is a former CIA assassin who fell into a drunk and homeless life after something unspecified happened to his girlfriend some years ago; he’s recruited by the utterly mysterious Finch (Michael Emerson), who has created a master government system which sifts through every single surveillance camera, e-mail and phone call in the country to detect potential terrorist plots.  However, the system has an unintended additional ability:  it can also predict which people will soon be involved in violent crimes–although it can’t tell whether those identified people will be the victims or perpetrators of the crimes.  Finch talks Reese into joining him to stop these crimes before they happen, alternately protecting and capturing the people implicated.  Reese ultimately agrees, and along the way he gets enough damaging evidence on corrupt cop Fusco (Kevin Chapman) that the man has to become his inside source when police info is needed; Reese also draws the attention of honest cop Carter (Taraji P. Henson), who knows something strange is going on but can’t quite figure out what.

Episode 2Person Of Interest has an original slant on the procedural, and in the second episode, written by series creator Jonathan Nolan and Executive Producer Greg Plageman, and directed by Richard L. Lewis, the series continues to be intriguing.  Finch’s magic machine has popped out the ID of a teenage girl who, according to the files, was murdered with her family 2 years earlier.  Since the magic machine can never be wrong, Reese sets out to investigate, and sure enough, it turns out the hired killer who shot her parents allowed the girl to live.  Now, however, her life is in danger once again, because she’s in line for a huge inheritance that the people who killed her family can’t let her claim.  The story, like the pilot’s, was quite cleverly worked out as long as you didn’t think about it too much. 

We also get a dribbling of tantalizing details about Finch, including flashback glimpses of him and his business partner 5 years earlier, as he started to work on the magic machine.  Since the partner is played by Brett Cullen, it’s almost certain he’ll turn out to be up to no good–we also find out that the partner is (apparently) dead in the present.  Besides that, there’s some welcome deadpan humor as Reese manages to follow Finch without being discovered and finds out that Finch’s way of “hiding in plain sight” has him working as a humble software designer at a conglomerate that, in fact, he owns.  

The episode all works pretty well, and although the series’ debut numbers weren’t too exciting, it seems like a show that has potential for growth, especially if NBC falters in the hour.  A limitation, however, may be that since both Reese and Finch are largely keeping their lives secret, there’s an awful lot of enigmatic clipped dialogue and little chance for emotion (although no one can do more with “enigmatic” than Michael Emerson).  Also, the “pressuring the dirty cop for information” sequence has been just about the same in both episodes, and will get old-hat fast if there’s not some variation.  For now, the Taraji Henson plot and character are footnotes, although presumably Nolan has some ideas for where it’s heading.

As the season’s new procedurals go, Person Of Interest is easily the most promising.  It’s not essential viewing at this point, but it’s a diverting way to spend an hour.
Original Verdict:  If Nothing Else Is On…
Pilot + 1:  Worth Keeping An Eye On

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."