CBS premiered two new series about men with extraordinary talents who are given the opportunity to use those talents not only change their lives for the better, but save and change the lives of strangers, as well. Scott Malchus reviews the new J.J. Abrams thriller series, Person of Interest, and A Gifted Man, which features Jonathan Demme as one of its executive producers.
Person of Interest is a paranoid series wrapped inside an action/thriller drama. Jim Caviezel (aka Jesus) is a Reese, broken, ex-Special Ops soldier living on the streets. Through flashbacks we slowly learn that Reese was in love and had quit the Army Rangers just when the 9/11 attacks occurred. What happened after that and what happened to the woman he loved remains a mystery. After an incident on the New York subway gets him arrested (he took out five would be muggers), he’s bailed out by a mysterious billionaire, Mr. Finch, played by the entertaining and enigmatic Michael Emerson (Lost). Finch has a job offer for Reese, one that will utilize the soldier’s unique skills to help save people’s lives.
Reese is resistant, but soon learns that Finch, a man who has the most minute details of people’s lives, doesn’t take “no” for an answer. Reese agrees to help this one time, if anything just to figure out how Finch is capable of finding out lives are in danger. Gradually he (and the audience) learn.
After 9/11, the government set out to monitor every aspect of citizens lives. Emails, phone calls, computer usage, and movement from place to place using surveillance cameras. Finch was the man who created the system that allowed for this intrusion into our lives. He created a program that identified threatening situations, but discarded anything that was not terror related as “irrelevant.” Finch’s conscious began to eat away at him and he decided he had to do something to help the save the lives of the irrelevant disasters about to happen. That’s where Reese comes in.
Finch is a diminutive man who walks with a limp and has difficulty moving his neck. Emerson continues his string of unusual men. He’s in no physical condition to take out the bad guys who want to cause bodily harm to innocent people. Thus, he needs a man who is skilled at killing people to do the dirty work. The pilot allowed for plenty of examples of Reese kicking some serious ass and showed that Caviezel makes for an excellent action hero. Moreover, his eyes carry the tortured soul look of a slightly younger Daniel Day Lewis. This could make for an interesting series.
Person of Interest was created by Jonathan Nolan, brother to Christopher, and co-writer of The Prestige and The Dark Knight. It should also be noted that it was his short story that was the inspiration for Memento. The series is executive produced by J.J. Abrams, so the expectations are running pretty high for this one to succeed. At the end of the pilot, the premise and two main characters had been established, but there were many doors left open. Among them: Why are Finch and Reese considered dead by the government? What crimes did Reese commit that forced him underground? What caused the death of Reese’s fiancé? Additionally, the show introduced a NYPD detective played by Taraji P. Henson. She appeared in just three brief scenes, but by the end, it became apparent that she would take on a role similar to Gerard in The Fugitive, hunting the “man in the suit” she keeps hearing about who takes out three to five attackers at a time.
This seems like it will be an enjoyable series with plenty of action, but also some thought provoking questions about morality and right to privacy. The dialogue was a little to spot on in places, describing exactly what was happening as we watched it. I’m hoping that if the series progresses, the writers will trust their audience a little more and not dumb down the scripts. Both Caviezel and Emerson are so interesting to watch that Person of Interest is worth checking out just for them. Although the series airs on a tough night for television, there really is nothing else like it on Thursdays nights. With Grey’s Anatomy really showing its age, Person of Interest has a chance to become a hit show before the season is over. I’ll be watching, as I’m sure Mr. Finch will be, too.
In A Gifted Man, Patrick Wilson (Little Children, Angels in America) plays world renowned neurosurgeon (is there any other kind on television), Michael Holt. He’s self absorbed, consumed with his work, and has the kind of dicky bedside manner that gives the health profession a bad name. One night, while leaving a fancy restaurant, he runs into his ex-wife, Anna (a lovely Jennifer Ehle). He invites her back to his loft where they enjoy dinner and catch up. They had married young and moved to Alaska to help the poor. But Michael grew restless of living the wilderness, wiping noses and giving shots; he divorced Anna. As Anna points out, it wasn’t the kind of medicine that he didn’t like, he didn’t like being married. This pointed remark hits home to Michael, whose life outside the office appears a touch lonely. Before he can respond, the doctor gets a call from his nephew, who has been arrested.
What we learn about Michael in these opening scenes, especially when he’s driving his nephew home and he spends a few minutes with his sister (Julie Benz), a single mom struggling to make ends meet, is that he’s a decent man. Although he can be brusque and sometimes an ass, the Michael that Anna fell in love with still exists. That Wilson is such an empathetic actor only helps us root for this guy to rise above what he’s become.
Michael’s life takes a drastic turn when he discovers that Anna has been dead for two weeks.
Why has she come back from the dead to visit him? At first she tells him that she left many doors opened and she needs his help closing them. Anna had been working in New York for a free clinic and her death left the clinic, its staff, and the hundreds of patients it helps in chaos. Of course, Michael wants nothing to do with the ghost of his dead ex-wife. But when he visits the clinic to unlock the computers with Anna’s password (that she revealed to him), the doctor begins to understand that he can help people in need and not just the wealthy ones who can afford (or who have insurance that can afford) his expertise.
On the surface, A Gifted Man sounds like CBS offering up another slice of Early Edition or Joan of Arcadia, series that saw individuals given unique / otherworldly gifts to better the world. Indeed, I was skeptical about the content of the show going into it. However, with Wilson in the lead, Susannah Grant, the screenwriter of Erin Brokovich, as its creator and Jonathan Demme executive producing and directing the pilot, I also felt that these were people who could lift rudimentary television fantasy above Hallmark Channel standards. I was right on the latter, as A Gifted Man promises to be an inspirational and hopeful series; something the world needs a lot more of these days.
I’m not sure what the direction the show will go in after it uses up the “Michael has to save the people at the clinic” storylines. What I like about the set up of the show, though, is the idea of a man who has lost his way and chooses to go off the beaten path (in this case, following the advice of an apparition) to rediscover his soul. In many ways, A Gifted Man reminded me of an early 90’s film called, The Doctor, starring William Hurt as a surgeon who must become a patient and finally learns that being a world renowned surgeon may be something learned, but it is also a gift. It is a gift that should be used to help your fellow man, not just the ones with the largest bank accounts. If A Gifted Man can achieve the kind of nuanced, heartfelt drama of that film on a weekly basis, it will surely become a hit.
- Person of Interest pilot delivers gray-area ethics and surveillance science fiction [Video] (io9.com)
- Television Review: Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel in ‘Person of Interest’ – Review (tv.nytimes.com)
- TV Tonight: Person of Interest (tunedin.blogs.time.com)
- TV: Person of Interest is a disappointment (boston.com)