CBS does two things well: police procedurals and crappy sitcoms. Long after our civilization dies off, aliens will arrive to find cockroaches and reruns of “CSI” and “Two and a Half Men.” So it’s no surprise to see CBS’ fall season crammed with more crime shows and sitcoms. But there’s at least one standout so far—the Jonathan Nolan-created action series “Person Of Interest.”
Nolan is best known for working with his big bro Christopher, penning screenplays for The Prestige and The Dark Knight. He doesn’t stray too far from the formula with “Person of Interest,” a dark, paranoid tale of vigilante justice that’s just a cape and rubber cowl removed from Batman.
James Caviezel (you may remember him as that Jesus guy from Mel Gibson’s movie Passion of the Christ) stars as John Reese, a mysterious former CIA agent now living homeless on the streets of New York. Reese is one of those shell-shocked super warriors who’s done things for our government that he just can’t get out of his mind. One day, after handily subduing some nasty muggers on the subway, he’s approached by a brainy billionaire named Finch (Michael Emerson, landing his first solid gig since “Lost”). Seems Finch has had his eye on Reese and wants to recruit him for a special mission. Paranoid and more than a little antisocial, Reese turns him down.
But fate soon throws our two leads together for the long haul. Seems that Finch was instrumental in developing a “machine” for the government. This top-secret supercomputer was designed to monitor every security camera feed, every newscast, every cell phone conversation, every email in America. From that incalculable pile of data, it predicts likely terror suspects. As a byproduct, however, the machine also points out subjects who are very likely to be involved in a major crime—either as victim or as perpetrator. Since the government is only interested in acts of terrorism, the lesser crimes fall by the wayside. Haunted by these unsolved crimes, Finch built himself a backdoor into the machine. Each night at midnight, the machine gives him a list of Social Security numbers. Each one of them is likely to kill or be killed in the next 24 hours.
Now, all Finch needs is a hero to help stop these crimes before they happen. That’s where Reese comes in. He’s a trained killer, capable of handling himself in just about any situation. He’s also dropped off the grid, using his military training to hide from the government. He’s the perfect man to play Batman to Finch’s brainy Commissioner Gordon.
With the pilot episode, “Person of Interest” set itself well ahead of the fall TV pack. Even highly touted dramas like “Charlie’s Angels” and much-anticipated comedies like “2 Broke Girls” have come across as cheap, scaled down and a little juvenile. Mature, well-constructed and smartly written, “Person of Interest” looks and feels like a big-budget action movie. It’s the first must-see crime series of the conspiracy-driven, surveillance-addled, post-9/11 era. I’m a watcher. You should be too.