Tuned In

Test Pilot: Person of Interest

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Test Pilot is a semiregular feature sharing my first impressions of the pilots for next season’s shows. These aren’t reviews, since these pilots can be rewritten, recast and retooled before airing, and the shows that eventually get on the air can prove much better or worse. But premature opinions are why God invented the Internet, so let’s get on with…

The Show: Person of Interest, CBS

The Premise: Did you like Minority Report but couldn’t understand why accusing people of crimes before they committed them was a bad thing? Meet Finch (Michael Emerson), a billionaire who developed software for the government to identify terrorists using universal-surveillance data. Finch has discovered that his pattern-searching software can also turn up predict crimes, and their victims or perpetrators, before they happen. (The hitch: it can’t always tell if a person is a victim or a perp.) Just like you would, he decides to form a private vigilante operation, but he needs muscle. Enter Reese (James Caviezel), an ex-CIA agent drinking his life away after a personal trauma. Together, the two damaged men join up to try to stop every preventable murder in New York City in this J. J. Abrams thriller.

First Impressions: When I saw the trailer at CBS’s upfront, I wasn’t sure whether the series meant to treat the total-surveillance premise as a blessing or a menace. And after the pilot I’m still not sure: there are cuts of spy-cam footage with sinister music, as if to hint at some larger drama, but it largely plays as a straight-up, if moody, action-crime show. The casting so far is asymmetrical. Emerson unsurprisingly gives Finch a creepy intensity, suggesting he has motives he’s not letting on. (This is important since there’s no getting around the silliness of the premise, but an outlandish premise is not a death sentence for a Bad Robot show.) But Caviezel, who gets more screen time, is less compelling in the early pilot. Another concern is that the pilot spends so much time setting up the premise that the almost-murder case feels thin. Maybe in future episodes the persons will have more interest. (And maybe they’ll prevent murders beyond NYC? I would think Finch could afford the plane fare.)

Do I Want to Watch Another Episode? I’m curious to see if there’s more to the menace than just mood music. But if the appeal of the show depends on the appeal of watching Caviezel stalk bad guys, I’m not going to be watching as patiently as those surveillance cameras.