I first met Chris back when he was posting as humanebean, and we often chatted off the list. We'd talk about Lost and other series, old and new, and he was a Mac guy who was constantly telling me to dump the PC and go with Apple. So when I finally did so earlier this year, it was met with a Hallelujah chorus from Chris and he's been awesome at always being there whenever I have a question. Of course, in between technical questions and answers we continue to chat about TV (and we even met up in both Toronto and his hometown of Boston this past summer to chat in person) and so I thought it would be great fun to tackle a new series with him! If you'd like to see what Chris does when he's not giving me tech support or talking about TV, go here to see his latest project, which has been getting amazing reviews, for good reason!
So let’s start!
Well, let’s get the obvious out of the way right off the top: how much people are going to compare this show to Lost:
• It’s produced by J.J. Abrams.
• It premiered on September 22.
• It stars Michael Emerson as an enigmatic individual who seems to know a LOT about things, wears round glasses, seems to keep files of information on the people he deals with, has a physical disability (it’s a limp rather than cancer this time), is obsessed with numbers (“The numbers never stop coming!”), and who is the sort of guy everyone just wants to beat up.
• Reese looks a lot like Jack Shephard, and I couldn’t help but smile when he refused to listen to
Was anyone else wondering if the names had extra meaning, or were searching for repeating numbers?
That said, I don’t see any of this as a drawback. I love the little elements that gave this show weight, and made it a true successor to the other J.J. Abrams shows that preceded it. I really, really enjoyed this pilot episode, and I typically don’t like pilots at all. I don’t care about the characters enough, there’s usually too much exposition, etc. But this took a basic premise and then built it up through the first episode. What did you think, Chris?
I have to say that I was apprehensive going in. The early buzz on the show was rather mixed (there seem to be a lot of Caviezel-bashers out there) and as much as I was looking forward to seeing Michael Emerson again, a part of me was worried that I might find his character (and the show) rather ordinary. I can happily say that I enjoyed the pilot episode, thought that Ben –er, Mr. Finch was a compelling character and that the groundwork was laid for an interesting series.
There’s a fine balance to be sought (certainly on network TV) between offering the familiar and comfortable and the slightly edgy and off-kilter. The concept for Person of Interest name-checks a plethora of paranoid someone-is-watching movies of the last decade or so: from Enemy of the State to Deja Vu to Eagle Eye. And yet writer Jonathan Nolan (brother of director Christopher) brings subtle touches to the familiar theme that range from the Samurai film Caviezel is watching in his seedy, flop-house hotel room to the knowing way that Caviezel coaxes the good out of fallen cop Kevin Chapman and sets him up to be his “man on the inside” in the future. I was reminded of a much older character, first introduced in pulp magazines before appearing on radio and in movie serials of the 30’s and 40’s – Lamont Cranston as The Shadow, a flawed but heroic figure who set out to protect the vulnerable from the powerful and corrupt.
Wow – that was an awful lot of pop-culture references to cram into my first thoughts on the show! I’ll pause for breath here and let Nikki jump back in. Back to you, Nik!
I will admit I’ve heard a lot of crazy things about Caviezel – that he’d made comments he was born to play Christ, and that he’s really intense, but then again, Matthew Fox isn’t exactly laidback. ;) But I thought he was pretty fantastic, and as you pointed out, I think the two leads are the main reason why the show really works. Caviezel pulled me in right from the beginning, and I think I’d watch Emerson in just about anything. They work very well together, with a familiar yet interesting chemistry.
The production values were impressive as well, from the camera work and the great long shots (like when Reese strides out into the street with the gun and just stands there waiting for the car to get closer) to the gritty, loud music that played throughout the episode. The only misstep, in my opinion, was the use of Massive Attack’s “Angel” in the scene where Reese and the cop are facing off, holding guns to their prisoners’ heads. That song is almost 15 years old, and was overused in television, movies, and movie trailers at the time (the best use of it was in one of the early seasons of the original Nikita TV show with Peta Wilson, where at the climax of the song a boat blew up), so it seemed a little dated to be using it again.
But that’s a very small nitpick about an otherwise well-crafted visual sense of the series.
What did you think of the actual premise, with a machine that can watch and pinpoint people in a Minority Report kind of way?
I think that the premise of the show played better in the execution than it did in the explanation. The use of intercut surveillance camera views from various angles opened up the plot and set it well in a wider context. The way in which graphics tracked over the views to indicate the individual subject of the surveillance – or showed how many people could be monitored at the same time – piqued my curiosity about who was monitoring the footage and how it was accessed. This sold the premise, in my opinion, and made me eager to learn more.
The explanation for the all-pervasive Watching Machine didn’t quite capture my imagination. While I felt that Michael Emerson did the best he could with the dialogue given in these scenes, I didn’t find the backstory for the creation of the machine as compelling. When he and Caviezel where shown strolling through the oft-used tunnels of Central Park as he described the twin tracks of the machine (“relevant” and “irrelevant”), I half expected to hear Ben say “You got me monologuing!” as they emerged into the light. Still, the fact that Ben has access to a secret “back door” for the Matrix –er, Machine, does provide a Point of Interest for future storylines. Is the Government aware that someone else has access to the database? Will Caviezel need to come to Ben’s defense if some mysterious personage comes sniffing around? Inquiring minds want to know.
I agree with you about the production values, Nikki. I generally liked the look and feel of the show and really enjoyed some of the camera angles and lighting effects. Did you know that the director of this episode, David Semel, is a veteran of many pilots and TV series, including episodes of Buffy and Angel?
Oh yes, I remember his name from my episode guides. ;) He was a big WB guy at one time, handling Buffy, Angel, Dawson’s Creek, Roswell, and others all at once. I think he also did a couple of Heroes episodes early on. So he was a good guy to do this pilot.
Agreed about the long exposition. They kind of lost me there a bit, and it’s the sort of thing that annoys me in pilots, but as you say, it wasn’t too annoying this time around. Emerson handled the monologue well, but it was still rather convoluted. When the camera would show us the p.o.v. of one of those CCTVs and we’d see it zoning in on Finch and Reese every time they walked by, that was far more disturbing and creepy, and you assumed every word they were saying was being listened to somewhere.
J.J. Abrams has incorporated real-world events into his shows before, with Alias, Fringe and Lost reflecting the zeitgeist of a post-9/11 world, but I found in Person of Interest he was using that even more, and showing the long-term repercussions of the terrorist act. I thought it was handled very well without being exploitative of that day.
I also really liked the guest stars – the lawyer was on Dirty Sexy Money and Justified and I was excited that William Sadler would be in it (he had been the sheriff dad in Roswell) but he just had a bit role as the older man with the guns in the backroom asking the kids who the hell that crazy guy was.
If I had to list off what I didn’t like, I thought some of it was a little too pat. The dialogue was flat for me in many of the scenes (which surprised me a lot considering Nolan is helming it) and there were certain scenes where they got away with stuff that went unexplained. How did Reese get away from the guys surrounding him when he tossed his phone into the guy’s backpack? Are we just to assume he made mincemeat of them like he always does? Why wasn’t he back in jail the way he’d been after the subway incident? How was Finch on the roof of a building, spying on the lawyer, and the moment he noticed she was leaving he somehow made it all the way down to the street in no time and was in a car and following her? How did he manage to sneak into a closed courtroom and switch the recording so it would be the woman’s voice instead of what she’d been expecting? And why would they force Emerson to walk with a limp knowing he’ll have to do it for years if the show takes off? ;) (It reminded me of ER where they put Laura Innes’ character on crutches, only for her to become a lead who had to stay on those crutches for years.)
I know we’re not supposed to ask most of these questions, but I do anyway. I hope they soon rely less on perfect coincidence and instead have these things become roadblocks that the characters overcome, rather than something they gloss over so they can tie up the episodes neatly.
But as I said, I think the true strength of the show is in the two leads. Caviezel is menacing and terrifying, and Emerson is brilliant. The ending was majestic, and I’m excited about next week’s episode!
I absolutely agree with your bones of contention in the pilot and the overriding desire to see past them and want more of the good stuff. I wasn’t as high on Natalie Zea (as ADA Hanson) as you were, although I love her as Timothy Olyphant’s ex-wife and current love interest on Justified. Her scenes were less believable to me and her ‘twist’ near the end fell a bit flat.
- As Ben Linus, Michael Emerson often brought touches of menace and pathos to his portrayal. I was extremely glad to see his nuanced characterization of MISTER Finch (given the sometimes ham-fisted dialogue) that quickly established him as a new entity without straying too far from what we’ve come to know and love about his acting talents. Oh, how I loves me some Benry.
- LOST call-back #1– this time, Michael Emerson has the lists, not Jacob!
- Loved how he tells Caviezel that others have lied to him but “I never will”.
- LOST call-back #2 – Michael Emerson characters have more passports than anyone on the planet.
- Jim Caviezel sets some kind of TV record for shooting people in the leg. If this becomes a drinking game, I’m in a LOT of trouble.
- The final image, of the endless banks of servers monitoring data in some anonymous government bunker, immediately brought to mind the iconic image of the warehouse in Raiders of the Lost Ark. *phew Thought I was going out without another pop-culture reference for a moment there!
Thanks for inviting me to share the blogverse with you for this series, Nikki. I look forward to a long and successful run for Person of Interest. Oh my gosh … I just “kissed of death” it, didn’t I? ; ]
Hahaha! And thank you for joining me! (And I just laughed out loud at your Raiders of the Lost Ark reference because I thought the very same thing!!) Maybe at some point the computer will go all HAL on everyone. This IS J.J. Abrams, after all.
See you next week!