Monday, October 7, 2013

Box Set Blues; Person of Interest, Series 1

There is a weird transition you go through when you switch between watching US cable shows and US Network shows. They've got different rhythms, and different ways of presenting their stories, because they have different audiences with different needs. Contrast something Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad to a show like House, or Agents of SHIELD, and you'll see less serialization on the network shows, more character short-hand, more repetition of ideas, at least in part because they latter need bigger, broader audiences to justify their existence. The last network show to make a big success out of serialisation on a major network was Lost, and there are forsaken corners of the internet where people are still arguing about how that turned out. But that formula of accessible, digestible TV with serialised mystery elements is still pursued by Commissioning Alchemists, who have recently conjured up Person of Interest.

Right, Post-Lost Bingo Cards at the ready.  Flashbacks? Check! Mysterious Agendas and odd co-incidences? Check! Ex-Lost Castmember? Check! Drip-fed character backgrounds? Check! Anyone won yet? 

Person of Interest does however have a few aces up it's sleeves. The first is it concept, that a Machine exists that absorbs data from across the inter-connected world we live in and analyses it for patterns, patterns that become predictive of future events. It's designed to look for terrorists, and seems to be happily doing that for the NSA, but also predicts all sorts of other violent crime, something it was programmed to suppress as "irrelevant". This irrelevant data, in the form of a persons National ID number, is now passed to a pair of assumed dead men, working to change peoples lives, one at at time. Yes, its a cross between the A-Team and the Equalizer, with a side order of modern day techno-paranoia. 

This makes for a wide variety of potential episodes and on the strength of the first series, they're keen to mix it up. For a start they don't know if the number is a victim or a perpetrator, which lets things get a little twisty, and on top of that it lets them change genres a bit, from morality plays, to chase thrillers, to spy stories, and so on. For a show running stand-alone (ish) stories every week, that range is important. 

It's second big ace is its two leads. Jim Caviezel and Micheal Emerson are contrasting screen presences, the former big and silent, the latter, quick and weasily, but they have good chemistry and can play their wary relationship for light comedy or serious drama. Caviezel's ultra-efficient ex-assassin especially is played very straight, but the show can get laughs out of how mis-matched his opponents are at times, or just play his terminator-like scowl as a brooding spectre of vengeance. The rest of the cast feel perennially under-used; good characters with actors working hard to keep them in mind, but the show revolves around the main pairing, and knows it. 

Finally, when Person of Interest starts to unveil it's main story, its a pretty decent one; deeply personal backstories for it's two leads and a sense that they could do a lot more with the setup that this first series has done so far. Its "series villian", played by Enrico Colantoni, (who will forever be Keith Mars to me) is a good presence in the "affably evil" mould, but hes still a side-show to the flashbacks around Caviezel and Emerson's characters that hold the emotional core of the show, and a dawning sense that the Machine may less passive that everyone, including it's builder, suspects. 

One of the great strengths of good Network shows is that they're generally not "hard work" to watch. You can miss an episode and not be punished for it, you don't have to carefully avoid spoilers too much, and generally what they lack in depth they make up in accessibility and joie de vivre. And Person of Interest is a a good example of that sort of show, slick, entertaining, and fun.