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April 18, 2014

'Persons Unknown' - 'Pilot' Recap (Series Premiere)

by Bob Sassone, posted Jun 8th 2010 11:40AM
Persons Unknown(S01E01) I wonder how different television would be if we didn't have previews and commercial promos and the web. How would a new show be received and even experienced if we didn't know a thing about it -- other than a brief description of the plot -- before watching it?

I'm sure there are people who don't read a lot about a show before they happen upon it, but it's probably not too many. I thought of that while watching NBC's new suspense drama 'Persons Unknown.' Wouldn't it be great if we knew very little about it before this first episode, so we'd be completely surprised by its plot and cast and setting and twists? Can we even judge a TV show fairly when we know so much about it beforehand?

The days of going blindly into a new show are gone, of course, unless you're the type of TV fan who doesn't read about TV shows, or go to TV blogs (like TV Squad!), or read pop culture magazines, and who wants to do that? Part of me does, actually, but it's hard when you write for a TV blog.

But it would have been cool with 'Persons Unknown.' It would have been great to just come across this show, maybe by word of mouth, or maybe because the title was intriguing. Seven people are kidnapped and wake up in a deserted hotel in a town that seems like the ultimate American small town, and they're watched by several cameras. There's no escape and no one knows why they were brought there. Only one of the people is rich enough to pay someone ransom, so it can't for money. All have secrets and all have different backgrounds.

So basically it's the first episode of 'The Twilight Zone': 'Where Is Everybody?' (only with a bunch of people in it and not just Earl Holliman) mixed with a dash of 'Jericho'. I'm sure that people will also say that it's very 'Lost,' but I don't really see it, beyond the surface plot of people not knowing where they are (and 1-note theme songs).

And what exactly is going on? Based on other TV shows and movies we can probably narrow it down to several possibilities:

- some sort of government conspiracy

- a dream

- aliens!

- one of the people in the group is actually the person behind it all, or at least involved in some way

- a new Chinese restaurant chain is testing out their menu and have chosen these people at random

But it's not all people-trapped-in-a-small-town weirdness. The writers have thrown in a subplot that has a San Francisco investigative reporter trying to figure out who kidnapped the single mom, an event helpfully captured on a security camera. By having this guy outside investigating, we can pretty much surmise that it's not a dream or anything that leads to a more surreal solution.

I like that fact that I'm not entirely sure where this is going, and it balances (in the first episode anyway) the weirdness and the real world-suspense quite nicely. If you're looking for the strange, you have that, and if you are turned off by too much strangeness (an invisible force field that stops the group from leaving; things have been implanted in their thighs), you'll appreciate the guy outside trying to figure things out, just like the viewer.

I don't know how this is going to do in the ratings, since it's NBC and Monday nights at 10PM ET are notoriously shaky. But we know it's only a thirteen-episode show for the summer, so at least this is going to have a definite end. Even if it is a success I don't see a second season for a show like this. Hey, maybe NBC is behind it. They're starting to kidnap viewers and making them not only watch NBC programming but star in it as well!

Judging from this first episode, I'm in for the long haul. I like 'The Twilight Zone'-ish stories with people trapped somewhere, not knowing what's going on. And I like the fact that the cast isn't well-known, except for Alan Ruck ('Ferris Bueller''s Day Off', 'Spin City') playing the rich guy. Who knows if viewers will want to stick around and get into yet another serialized drama, but this doesn't have the complexity or craziness of a 'Lost', so it might be more accessible, especially for one summer. In fact, it's perfect summer entertainment, like a fun sci-fi movie or book. One with fantastic Chinese food and odd fortunes.

Did this first episode intrigue you enough to watch the entire series? Watch it below.



[Follow Bob on Twitter.]

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Dan H

The only thing I knew about this show was knowing it would be a 13 episode miniseries (supposedly with a conclusion) and the premise: (As someone else already posted) a small group of people from diverse locations and backgrounds get abducted and confined in an ordinary setting and have to figure out the mystery of who put them there and why. I came in knowing nothing else, no plot twists, no surprises, no actors or casting...And I enjoyed the ride...It was somewhat confusing, and purposefully so, but I'll be back. It doesn't seem like a show for a mass audience, but I dug it.

June 10 2010 at 8:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
JEN

I gave up on Happy Town, not sure why but I did.
I "found" this channel surfing the other night, taped it and watched it and I liked it. I think if you have a weird story line, good writers and good actors who are believeable, then you have a hit.
if the actors werent good, I wouldnt be tuning in next week, but I am and can watch for 13 episodes as long as there is an ending. Loved harpers island too!

June 09 2010 at 11:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
zita

I enjoyed the pilot and it left me looking forward to the following episode. I was specially striken by the mom's statement about her little daughter: if "they" have her, at least I'll know she's safe... Gosh, that granma must be one scary person!!

June 09 2010 at 1:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
BobbyBuz

I'm in for the long haul, if you consider 13 weeks a long haul. I've got it scheduled in my DVR as I'm a longtime fan of Twilight Zone and Jason Wiles.

Didn't the girl with the medical background play Judging Amy's assistant?

June 08 2010 at 9:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mateo

I can't believe how much this show rips off THE HOUSE BETWEEN (the web series). The premise: a small group of people from diverse locations and backgrounds get abducted and confined in an ordinary setting and have to figure out the mystery of who put them there and why, the characters: the pretty woman who had an abusive childhood, the by-the-book soldier, the hero who won't discuss his past, the looney shy guy (here a woman), the loud mouth who is always threatening everyone. Even the opening shot of a close up of a woman's eye staring up at the ceiling are replicated here.

June 08 2010 at 8:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nathaniel

I enjoyed it. I'll be continuing to watch, and I echo the sentiment that it's nice to have a show that's already filmed and we know is going to reach a resolution. I was a big fan of Day Break.

June 08 2010 at 6:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sir Yuck-Yuck

now I got 2 things for Summer
by beach book reading
the help a novel by Kathryn Stockett
and this Tv show - I just loved the premise
NOW Moira needs to break into that clothing store and take some clothes off the rack, I seen her eyeing the place when they came out of the hotel unless she plans on wandering trhough out the whole show in her pajamas and housecoat LOL

June 08 2010 at 5:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Donna

I was pretty spellbound watching it and unless it loses momentum and starts to go off the rails, I intend to watch the whole series!

BTW, I'd like to address your statement: "I wonder how different television would be if we didn't have previews and commercial promos and the web. How would a new show be received and even experienced if we didn't know a thing about it -- other than a brief description of the plot -- before watching it?"

I grew up in the '50s when we never got inside info about what any shows were about. You'd just watch whatever came on, but then again, there were only 3 networks at the time! I MUCH prefer the way it is today and won't even set a reminder for a show unless I read the description first!

June 08 2010 at 3:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
B

I'll watch the series unless it *really* starts to stink. It's nice knowing that there's an endpoint and that it's unlikely that I'll get caught up in a narrative that gets cancelled without a satisfactory resolution.

June 08 2010 at 2:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Frank

I think you TV bloggers ruin it for yourselves. You seek out information so that you can be the most knowledgable or the first to report something. You lose perspective of the average television watcher.

I think most people don't know much about the shows they begin to watch. It's just the super fan boy types that seek out information that find it.

I still haven't watched (it's sitting on my DVR), but I know very little about the show other than it's about some people that are abducted to some town in the middle of nowhere. And there's a Chinese restaurant... (To be clear, I haven't intentionally stayed away from information, I just haven't sought it out)

It's not hard to stay away from information if you want to.

June 08 2010 at 1:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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