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Review: Michael Emerson's 'Person of Interest' Is a Mixed Bag But Worth a Look

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 21st 2011 12:30PM
'Person of Interest' (9PM ET Thursday, CBS) has a few solidly good things going for it.

A big part of the premise is the idea that video surveillance and online tracking programs pervade almost every aspect of our lives. The show isn't designed to peer into the scarier crevices of paranoia, but 'Person of Interest' asks, not without cause, is it actually paranoia if someone really is watching us?

The other big thing it has going for it is Michael Emerson, who, after his terrific performance as the charismatic and ambiguous Ben Linus on 'Lost,' is more than capable of commanding the center of this drama as an enigmatic technology titan named Finch.

The pilot is well-paced and looks great, but then we always expect excellent production values from things that J.J. Abrams (one of the show's executive producers) sprinkles his pixie dust on. And, despite the fact that someone's dusting for fingerprints within the first five minutes of the pilot, there are glimmerings that this may not be just another CBS procedural.

Then again, 'Person of Interest' might be just another CBS procedural, dressed up in fancier clothing. We'll have to see.

As for the premise of the show, it's almost plausible -- call it plausible-ish. If the execution of 'Person of Interest' isn't extremely smart going forward, it'll be hard to forget that, once again, an Abrams project is asking us to accept a somewhat vague MacGuffin that has its roots in reality but is also a bit reminiscent of those red balls of goo in 'Alias' and the 'Star Trek' reboot and the magic box that Ben Linus had on 'Lost.'

The idea is that Finch came up with a tracking program that helps the government catch terrorists, but an unexpected byproduct of the program was its ability to spot the machinations of non-terrorists caught up in more mundane illegal or murderous plots. The catch is, the machine can't figure out if the people it snares in its digital net are victims or perpetrators. Hence the need to have the secretive Finch and his new right-hand man, Reese (Jim Caviezel) investigate these potential crimes.

Not all the elements of the premise or of the show hang together gracefully, it must be said. The primary focus is in the pilot is, not surprisingly, on the formation of the partnership of Finch and the very wary Reese, a former secret agent with formidable fighting fists and clandestine investigative skills. But other characters, especially Taraji P. Henson's New York City cop, Det. Carter, seem pretty much extraneous, and the pilot also features some rather cartoonish villains and clunky dialogue.

A bigger potential stumbling block is Caviezel's cagy, if not mildly logy, performance as Reese. Watching Emerson play things close to the vest is an eternal joy. Watching Caviezel give an underwritten character a little too much introspection is less interesting. Part of the reason Terry O'Quinn's Locke and Emerson's Linus were a screen pairing for the ages was because the 'Lost' characters not only got under each others' skins, the actors seemed to raise their games whenever those obsessive island residents sparred. Emerson and Caviezel do not have a similar spark, and the show's writers will have to compensate for that going forward.

The question for the series as a whole is whether each week's episode will consist of Finch and Reese neatly sorting that week's person of interest into the "good guy" or "bad guy" categories. The fact is, it's not hard to see the show developing a repetitive formula, i.e., Finch sitting in an office, monitoring operations, and Reese out on the streets, tailing suspects -- and the criminal turns out to be the person you least expected (until that becomes the expected resolution).

Also, though CBS has allowed 'The Good Wife' to weave together ongoing stories, it remains to be seen if 'Person of Interest' will be given similar leeway to develop a meaty mythology and thoughtfully delve into issues of privacy, security and individual liberties.

"I've always been fascinated by the idea of the Panopticon, the idea of a surveillance state," executive producer Jonathan Nolan (the screenwriter for 'Memento' and 'The Dark Knight') said at a summer press event for the show. "Who's watching? What are they doing with that information?"

Those are the most interesting questions at the heart of 'Person of Interest.' I'm not expecting another 'Rubicon,' but ignoring the conspiracy-thriller aspects of the premise and the topicality of Finch's creation would make for a very predictable drama. If 'Person of Interest' can calibrate the relationship between the leads in a way that makes their interactions more compelling, and if the show finds ways to answer Nolan's questions in creative and unexpected ways, it could be CBS' next addictive drama.

If it ends up being a post-9/11 version of 'The Equalizer,' then this person will quickly lose interest.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Care to revisit this little piece of work, Missy?

What you have is the best new drama in years, with superb acting and out-of-this-world writing.

Now, leave them alone CBS!!

May 14 2012 at 7:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
G Smith

This is one that I can't wait to see. One can only hope for another Rubicon eh Mo? But then again will the networks allow it time to develop before pulling it off the air? It seems great television isn't so much about being great but how the reality tv generation views things these days.

Anyways I'm looking forward to giving this one a good look over. And I hope it grabs us for all it's worth.

September 22 2011 at 9:38 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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