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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
PERSON OF INTEREST (CBS)
(written by Jonathan Nolan; directed by David Semel; TRT: 43:40)
The network's description: "PERSON OF INTEREST stars Jim Caviezel, Emmy Award winner Michael Emerson and Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson in a crime thriller about a presumed dead former-CIA agent who teams up with a mysterious billionaire to prevent violent crimes by using their own brand of vigilante justice. Reese's (Caviezel) special training in covert operations appeals to Finch (Emerson), a software genius who invented a program that uses pattern recognition to identify people about to be involved in violent crimes. Using state-of-the-art surveillance technology, the two work outside of the law using Reese's adept skills and Finch's unlimited wealth to unravel the mystery of the person of interest and stop the crime before it happens.
Reese's actions catch the attention of the NYPD, including homicide detective Carter (Henson), and Fusco (Kevin Chapman), a cop who Reese uses to his advantage. With infinite crimes to investigate, Reese and Finch find that the right person, with the right information, at the right time, can change everything. Emmy Award winners J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk ("Lost"), Academy Award nominee Jonathan Nolan ("Memento"), David Semel ("Heroes") and Greg Plageman ("Cold Case") are the executive producers for Warner Bros. Television."
What did they leave out? That about covers it.
The plot in a nutshell: "When you find that one person who connects you to the world, you become someone different, someone better," Reese (Jim Caviezel) explains in the opening narration. "When that person is taken from you, what do you become then?" Such is the case for our hero: once a prized government agent, now a ragged, homeless shell of his former self haunted by memories of his deceased lover Jessica (Susan Misner). That all changes when he's arrested for defending himself against a group of subway toughs only to be bailed out by Mr. Finch (Michael Emerson), a mysterious, bespeckled man who walks with a limp. He has a proposal for Resse: come to work for him where he'll have a purpose in life once again.
You see, Finch made billions off of an ECHELON-esque project for the government designed to monitor and evaluate the endless streams of information out there. Before completing said effort, Finch built himself a tiny backdoor into the program, one which provides him the Social Security number for a "person of interest," someone who might be the victim - or the perpetrator - of an upcoming crime. His goal: use Reese's talents to find those people and try to protect - or stop - them as the case may be. Reese is of course skeptical, but ultimately comes around after Finch reminds him how he wasn't there to save his beloved Jessica. With Finch's help, Reese will be able to save all the Jessicas out there.
Their first target then is Diane Hanson (Natalie Zea), a New York City ADA who's in the middle of a tense trial. And so Resse and Finch proceed down the procedural rabbit hole, overcoming various false starts and circumventing blind alleys to get a bead on what she's in the middle of. Along the way we meet Fusco (Kevin Chapman), an enjoyably unapologetic dirty cop, and Carter (Taraji P. Henson), a detective who catches wind of Reese's activities. Ultimately, as you can guess considering its premise: not all is ever what it seems to be.
What works: The show is filled with a wonderful array of promising concepts - from its "The Beast with a Million Eyes"-esque take on technology to its "Hard to Kill" adjacent leading man - but perhaps the most striking is how fresh and fulfilling its procedural aspects are. There are no dead bodies or crime scenes as is custom with the genre, just a number - one which leads to a good guy needing help or a bad guy needing to be stopped. Half the battle then is determining which group that person falls into, something that gives an added spark to the usual mechanizations. It helps that Caviezel and Emerson are spearheading said pursuits as for as little as we learn about their characters in the pilot, so much comes across in their unspoken demeanors and subtle attitudes.
Together, you'd be hard pressed to find a more compelling duo this fall: whether it's Reese taking down a room full of gun-toting thugs armed with nothing but a wry smile or confidently firing a tear gas canister into oncoming traffic, there's a flair of, let's just call it "bad-assery" to the proceedings that's rarely seen on television nowadays, not to mention Emerson's always welcome ice-water stare and intonation that makes you want to buy everything he's selling, blissfully ignoring the obvious harbingers of what doing so entails.
Throw in David Semel's engrossing direction - CCTV footage effectively bridges various scene transitions - and a well-chosen temp track (the scores from "Tron: Legacy," "Heat" and of course "The Dark Knight") and you have about as confident and well-constructed of a pilot I've stumbled across in a while. What really pushes me over the edge however is that - despite all of the above - we're only just scratching the surface of what this show could be...
What doesn't: ...and I couldn't be more excited.
The bottom line: Hands down my favorite new fall drama.