Monday, July 30, 2012

Series Review- "Person of Interest" Season 1

My DVR is littered with television shows that I want to watch- many go back two or three seasons. I like "Fringe" and "Castle" and try to catch up on "The Walking Dead" or "Falling Skies" when I can; but when I'm looking at 20-30 hours of viewing for just one show, just to get caught up, I find I really need to connect to a story or I'm not motivated to invest the time. This year the one show that resonated with me was Person of Interest, and for the first time in years I watched the entire season before the episodes had a chance to pile up on my DVR.

In the wake of 9/11 a machine is built by computer genius Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) that gleans information worldwide from surveillance cameras and satellites and pinpoints immediate terrorist threats for the American government. What Finch doesn't anticipate is that the machine also recognizes immediate non-terrorist threats and alerts him to people, by social security number, who will be murdered within the next 48 hours.

Finch tries to disregard the civilian victims as they are non-essential to national security. But, over time, the knowledge that there are people out there he can help weighs on his conscience and he finds former CIA agent John Reese (John Caviezel) and hires him to help save people that would almost certainly die without their help.

"Person of Interest" is a show with a simple premise that explores the complexities of human greed and corruption instead of forcing the viewer to follow a circuitous route of mystery-box plot devices. That isn't to say that the show doesn't bury the main characters under layers of their own mysterious backgrounds, but their personal secrets usually take a back-seat in favor the immediate storyline that makes up each individual episode. Finch is intellectually gifted but physically hobbled due to a so-far undisclosed injury that was likely tied to his work on the machine. Reese is physically intimidating thanks to his extensive military background and plays the badass to Finch's genius. Both men are dealing with loss and grief that propels them to protect others but the particulars haven't been fully revealed.

I was initially wary of how the show would play out as the villains of the story are often politically connected and I was sure that there were bound to be sucker-punches along the way that would betray the bias of show's writers. But the brilliance of the show is that everyone is a potential bad guy and there are no sacred cows. The jumping off point of the series follows the deep seated corruption within the New York police force and its ties to the mafia. As Reese and Finch save one person caught in that particular web they find that the infection runs deeper into the political structure of the city. Over time it becomes clear that virtually everyone has their hands dirty and the best they can do is to try to protect the few people with any integrity that have managed to avoid being blackmailed or bribed into compliance. As an added twist it's often unclear if the people they are trying to help are perpetrators or victims. There's no political ideology being lionized here because everyone is shady in some way.

Two NYPD detectives quickly become integral to Reese and Finch's operation. Joss Carter (Taraji B. Henson) initially chases Reese when she crosses paths with him on a number of cases. Referring to him as "the man in the suit" she isn't sure of his intentions and it isn't until she has first-hand experience with the CIA, and their pursuit of Reese, that she begins to trust and help him- but there major turnarounds and misunderstandings along the way (I'm trying to keep this spoiler free). Carter is one of the few people in a position of authority that can be counted as one of the 'good guys' and often ends up in danger as a result. The other detective, Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman) is brought to Reese's attention because he is a dirty cop and vulnerable to blackmail and can be used to infiltrate deeper into the NYPD's corruption.

There are so many things I like about this show- it's hard to say what my favorite aspect is. The cast is simply awesome. Jim Caviezel never seems to speak above a whisper and he could give lessons in how to be quietly menacing; his butt-kicking moments are so fun in a vicarious-thrill kind of way. (You can't help but love a guy who'll walk through the front door of a mob-operated bar and take down everyone in the room).  He's also a smart character who is tenacious in his determination to find out more about Finch. However, because this is a television show, there are a few cheesy moments: it's a given that anytime Reese turns his back to anyone for any length of time he's going to have a gun put to his head. Michael Emerson makes Finch so much more than the antisocial genius and his character quickly goes beyond his quirky exterior and becomes very endearing over the course of the season. Taraji B. Henson is also excellent and convincing as Carter- you really care about her. But the biggest surprise is Kevin Chapman as Lionel Fusco. His character is one that came into the show as a man willing to kill Reese to keep his illegal activities secret and, somehow, becomes someone who earns our sympathy.

"Person of Interest" isn't, strictly speaking, a genre show. The technology is slightly beyond where we currently are (as far as I know) and has a slight sci-fi element to the effectiveness and efficiency of the surveillance Harold uses to power the machine. But one look at Google Earth is all I need to look at to know that there is nothing in this show that is beyond belief. The only thing I can't believe is that Finch and Reese could carry on so many covert conversations in which they speak out loud in a crowded room through the ear-buds they use to speak to each other.  Reese also spies on people, camera and all, without actually hiding. I understand the need to get these activities on film, but the secretiveness they are supposed to convey doesn't always come across.

Johnathan Nolan (brother of Christopher) really did come up with a winning formula when he created "Person of Interest."  It's an intelligent, tightly woven, often tense show that has excellent character development. The way it focuses on trying to save people is refreshing in that it gives the audience a clear side to root for without giving up any complexity or shades of gray as it explores the darker side of human nature. I've done my best to summarize the series without spoilers but I will say that season one ended on a pretty terrific cliff-hanger and, for the first time since BSG went off the air, I am counting the days until the new season starts.


Maurice Mitchell said...

Wow. I'll have to catch this show on Netflix or Thanks for the "spoiler-free" season review.

SQT said...

I hope you like it. So far it's not on Netflix but I expect it'll show up when they start the second season. I'm ridiculously into this show, so I know that the next season starts September 27th.

Elfy said...

My wife enjoys this. I watch it with her, but I found my interest waned after the first few episodes when I felt that it started to become by it's very nature somewhat formulaic.

SQT said...

I suppose it is but, for me, trying to follow a long, convoluted story like there was in "Lost" just isn't something I'm interested in. There is an overarching story here but it's not something that you have to catch every detail of every episode to understand. I supposed I should offer the caveat that this is a great show for short attention spans like mine.

SQT said...

I will also say, in defense of the show, that it has some pretty good twists about halfway through the season. I'm usually pretty good at anticipating where a story is going to go and I didn't see most of it coming. The find-and-save a person on each show is a formula, but they're tying all the different people together into a bigger picture and I like the way it's turning out.

John said...

I LOVE this show. Caviezel pulls off the 'quiet badass' so well, it's astounding. I particularly love the gunrunner scene in the very first episode. No spoilers, one must watch to appreciate.

Looking forward to season 2!