There isn’t a single interesting person in CBS’s dud-on-arrival Person of Interest; at best, there’s only a single interesting idea. A weird, all-too-serious cross between Charlie’s Angels and Human Target, the show is all formula and no character. Mr. Finch (Michael Emerson, basically reprising his role from Lost), a shadowy egghead with an unlimited bank account, offers a fallen agent, Reese (a blank Jim Caviezel), a shot at redemption: “Knowledge is not my problem,” says Finch, explaining his need for a partner, “it’s doing something with that knowledge.”
Those lines apply to the creator of the show, Jonathan Nolan, who, having co-written the screenplays for The Prestige and The Dark Knight, has more than enough knowledge about how to craft a thrilling concept, but lacks a partner talented enough to turn it into a visually compelling or fluid piece of television. The pilot’s director, David Semel (also an executive producer), plays with drab colors and surveillance stock footage that might as well be from 1998’s Enemy of the State, makes New York City a boring, static environment (and navigates it as unrealistically as 24), and muddles the cuts between scenes almost as much as the infamously bad Hudson Hawk.
After 9/11, Finch designed a surveillance system that allowed the government to amass actionable intelligence on terrorists—the so-called “relevant” data. But after realizing that the “irrelevant” (non-terrorist, but still deadly) data was simply being junked, he hacked back in, with the goal of “leaving no crime behind.” The choice to scale back in scope, from massive conspiracies to smaller crimes, is one of the few good moves Person of Interest makes. It’s like a time-travel-less Quantum Leap, our heroes blindly working to save total strangers in a limited amount of time; the fun twist is that Finch is only given each person of interest’s Social Security number to work off of, and that person might be the target of the crime or the criminal. But while Nolan has more than a few tricks up his sleeve, the pilot’s twist is blatantly telegraphed, and Semel’s direction is so artificially staged that most of the sequences seem implausible: The show ought to be called A Man of Convenience, since the premiere episode has him stumbling from clue to clue.
Person of Interest also suffers two more recurring characters and an overdone recurring story arc being stuffed into the pilot. The episode opens with Reese at rock bottom (he’s become a whiskey-soaked homeless man); when he defends himself against five rich hoodlums while half-passed-out on a subway car, he winds up under police investigation. (Why he sticks around for the police is a mystery; why he encounters these same would-be thugs again later in the episode—for an entirely unrelated reason—is seemingly a budgetary matter.) The interrogating officer, Carter (Taraji P. Henson), knows there’s something suspicious about Reese’s special-force-like skill, but she chooses to run his fingerprints only after she’s released him, which means she’s forced to spend the rest of the season trying to track the vigilante down. Worse is Reese’s forcible employment of Fusco (Kevin Chapman), a corrupt cop with a sliver of remorse for his ways; surely there are better, more reliable ways to get intelligence from the police, especially when you’re working with a world-class hacker, but whatever. Maybe these roles only appear to be entirely at odds with the central concept of the show; they can’t exactly bring less to the table than Caviezel.