January 14, 2014

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Intelligence”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on INTELLIGENCE:  Gabriel Vaughn (Josh Holloway) is, thanks to scientist Shenandoah Cassidy (John Billingsley) and his nerdy son Nelson (P.J. Byrne), a government agent with a chip in his head that wires him directly into all of the world’s electronic signals, making him a human internet, cloud, e-mail system, satellite imaging platform and more.  He reports to Lillian Strand (Marg Helgenberger) and is handled and protected by Secret Service agent Riley O’Neill (Meghan Ory).

Episode 2:  The major creative decision made after the Intelligence pilot was produced was to abruptly conclude the one part of Vaughn’s backstory that appeared to be set up for serialization:  his CIA agent wife who was supposedly killed in a terrorist attack, but who Vaughn continued to seek through all the electronic means at his disposal.  By the end of the show’s first regular episode, written by Co-Producers Aaron Ginsberg and Wade McIntyre and directed by Aaron Lipstadt, his wife was revealed to be alive but–depending on how the ambiguous ending is read–either a terrorist herself who had an attack of conscience at the very end, or so deep undercover that she couldn’t get out.  In any case, she ingested an edible bomb created by the terrorists Vaughn and his team had been tracking, and was blown up, so it seems that there’s no question about her death now.  While this leaves Vaughn a grieving widower as the hour ends (and furious at Riley, who didn’t let him die with his wife), presumably the idea is to free Holloway for romance and eventually some will-they-or-won’t-they with his handler.  (She’s already cutely moved into the apartment directly across from his.)

All of this makes Intelligence even more of a straightforward procedural than the pilot suggested.  The show’s bigger problem is that not only is it too close to Chuck in its premise to seem very original, but it’s too similar to every other high-tech procedural on the air.  The fact that the screens Vaughn is reading happen to be in his brain rather than on actual screens is fairly irrelevant, especially in this age of tablets and smartphones and NSA access to everyone’s secrets–you don’t need a magic chip in your head to have all the information in the world at your fingertips, and there are several times in the episode where Vaughn and the other agents are racing through the same records.  (He gets there first, but just barely.)   The show’s big visual gimmick of having Vaughn “walk through” a reconstruction of whatever crime scene he’s examining is just a slightly more elaborate version of what shows like Unforgettable and Hannibal have already been doing.

That leaves the cast as the main reason to watch, and certainly Holloway (who’s shirtless as often as the writers can barely justify), Helgenberger and Ory are appealing leads.  The script of this episode, though, had them all making speeches at each other too much of the time, as everyone claimed the morally righteous high ground.  Perhaps that’s something the show will minimize in future hours.

Intelligence did moderately well in a post-NCIS preview airing, but it faces a major challenge in its regular timeslot, competing head-to-head with the fall’s breakout hit The Blacklist.  While Blacklist is an imperfect, often silly show, its very craziness is arresting, and it has James Spader dripping his oddly fascinating charisma over it all.  For Intelligence to have much of a chance, it would have to be much more distinctive than it currently seems to be, and while it may well do better than the outright flop Hostages did last fall in the Monday 10PM hour, it seems unlikely to pose much of a threat to NBC.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  THE BLACKLIST and ARCHER Offer Contrastingly Loonytune Action Alternatives.


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."