Thursday, February 23, 2012

Person of Interest

It’s amazing the shit you let slide when you like a show. PERSON OF INTEREST is absurd on practically every level but I enjoy it. It’s THE EQUALIZER meets BIG BROTHER. Holes in the storytelling you could drive a 380-Airbus through yet I watch anyway. In fact, part of the fun is recognizing the gaping craters and being amused by them.

Let’s explore a few, shall we?

The major conceit is that Finch (Michael Emerson, who is the Meryl Streep of creepy fun) somehow developed this “machine” that is forever surveying everyone in New York and predicts crimes and victims. How does it do this? That’s never really been spelled out. Domino pizza receipts are compared with deliveries in known terrorist cells, that sort of thing. Okay, a little stretch, but if you’re saying there’s a computer that analyzes billions of bits of information and draws conclusions, I’m willing to go along. Especially since (a) we’re in a post 9-11 world, and (b) I don’t live in New York so this contraption is not spying on me.

Side note: I never understand why super villains and terrorists all bother to live in New York since that’s where the superheroes and “machines” are. Why doesn’t the Green Goblin operate out of Arizona? Let’s see Spiderman swing from building to building in Tucson.

But I digress…

Finch’s machine is hooked up to a complex network of surveillance cameras that essentially covers every square-foot of Manhattan. Wow! How much would something like that cost? How many cameras would have to be installed? Which home alarm company gets that sweet contract? How many maintenance guys would have to be on duty 24-7 to fix all the cameras that go on the fritz? Are they union?

And don’t get me started on the legality issues.

But those are just quibbles. Here’s the whopper:


Two million cameras were requisitioned, installed, and tested and no one knows about it. I imagine we’re supposed to feel comforted that all terrorists who live in Tribeca can be tracked and identified, but if you stop and think about it – how utterly incompetent is our country that someone could install two million video cameras completely under our nose?

Like I said, absurd to the nth degree, but if you’re a fan of the show you just chalk it up to “creative license.”

Finch’s partner is Mr. Reese (Jim Caviezel), a former CIA agent/Green Beret/Jesus Christ. He never speaks more than two lines of dialogue at a time and delivers each line as if it were a clue. “Do you have… ketchup?” English is his second language. Cryptic is his first. And I find it hilarious that no one calls him on it. In reality: “Do you have…ketchup?” “Yeah. Why you talking like that? Are you a spy?”

Reese and Finch stay in touch via hands-free undetectable phones. Apparently they also provide a cone of silence because Reese is always talking in a normal voice even when he’s on a stakeout or hiding from someone. Either that or he only follows dangerous deaf people. Still, I’m fine with it.

But my favorite scene of the year so far came in a recent episode (I don’t know the date it aired, I DVR this stuff. I don’t even know what day the show is on.) Charles Widmore from LOST is back in town, now with a German accent, shooting people. Reese is too late. He enters an apartment to find a newly shot guy sitting on a chair. Reese decides to poke around. He’s not wearing gloves. He rummages through drawers and even PICKS UP THE GUN. Meanwhile, on CSI: NEW YORK they’re tying murders to a molecule left behind by a killer, but Reese can juggle the murder weapon without becoming a suspect. I’m sorry. Today’s sitcoms don’t make me laugh like that.

For now PERSON OF INTEREST is a guilty pleasure. But I worry. How long until they do something so ridiculous that even I throw up my hands? Or worse, what if they do something that’s actually plausible? Guess the best thing is to just enjoy it while I can, knowing full well that sooner or later its number will be up.


Anonymous said...

Not to take your post to seriously, but I don't believe the conceit is that the cameras are specific to the machine -- just that the machine can access security cameras, cell towers and computer networks already online.

Given the recent revelations of NYPD surveillance documented by Glenn Greenwald and others, it's not so much of a leap.

The sorting out of the information and inability for anyone to hand Reese a cup of coffee and wake him up is another matter...

PolyWogg said...

Yo' Ken,

I know you're a writer for TV and all, so you're not expected to pay attention to the scripts after they are actually, you know, filmed and all, but apparently you weren't paying enough attention in the early episodes...

a. Reese doesn't care if he becomes a suspect because he doesn't really exist...the CIA made him a "ghost";

b. Finch et al didn't install the machines -- they are supposedly hacking traffic cams, sometimes satellites, ATM cams, etc. An equally big plot hole, but easier to swallow perhaps; and,

c. It isn't only Manhattan -- the machine was designed to be all USA, it's just that Finch and Reese only get numbers in NYC. A different plot hole too, would be more fun if they had to fly to Tucson too.

I have a bigger hole problem with the fact that Finch is a billionaire, can hide a giant machine, infiltrate any computer system, but can't get his own Fortress of Solitude in Manhattan without buying abandoned buildings, etc.? Heck, why not just buy an office tower and rent out the rest of it at cheap rates to companies he wants to steal data from???

I really thought this show wouldn't make it past week 5, surprised still that others like it. Unlike you're view that it is like the Equalizer, which I hadn't thought of, everytime the opening credits talk about them being "Hunted by the authorities", I keep expecting the next line to be "they escaped to the Manhattan underground. They exist as soldiers of fortune ... if you have a problem, and nobody else can help, and if they can find you...maybe you can become (blam blam blam) a Person of Interest." :)


Richard J. Marcej said...

I had the same attitude when I used to watch 24. The first few seasons, I let all the absurd plot holes pass, since I was enjoying the show. Until the season they detonated a NUCLEAR BOMB in Los Angeles and three, four episodes (or on this show, hours) later NO ONE was talking about it!

I was done.

Mike said...

Don't you mean that this neat but implausible CBS series would find that "its numb3r will be up"?

The camera thing would be more believable if the series were set in Chicago as our city leaders seem determined to turn the city into a panopticon for the police. For now, most of the cameras are at corners with known drug dealing issues. Though now that Rahm Emmanuel, who lives up the street from me, is mayor, there's been some installed in my neck of the woods as well.

Ref said...

I feel the same way about the show. Caviziel has been doing this for a while, if you've never seen his version of Count Of Monte Christo. The details are ridiculous, but one likes the characters.

The Ames Family said...

Being female, I enjoy this show for one big reason: Jim Caveziel in Armani, kicking the crap out of bad guys is HOT! It's ok, I don't expect you to understand.

However, on a more cerebral point, I appreciate the fact that this show is different. We don't have cable, so I'm stuck watching all the crap networks *think* I want to watch. I'm 30, so I'm way past Fox's demographic (my 5 yr. old is closer). I'm not a fan of nighttime soaps, so ABC is out too (Desperate Housewives, Greys Anatomy anyone?). This leaves me NBC and CBS. A few shows on NBC I do like, but NBC has screwed with the viewer so much over the past 5 years that I'm still angry at them. And their freshmen shows almost always suck! CBS has NCIS, which I let's make four more shows just like that. It has CSI, which I used to watch...a decade ago...and that show was really popular, so here's ten more. It's just ridiculous!! Who are these people that make decisions?! So, POI with it's gaping holes, is at least different enough in it's storyline, but good enough in it's story telling that I enjoy watching it.

My dad used to poke holes in ER when I was a teenager. What he failed to understand was I didn't watch the show so I could be a doctor, I watched it for entertainment. POI is pretty darn entertaining. I hope it sticks around for another season!

MikeN said...

I think Person of Interest is more likely to be around for 10 years than 1 year.
USA will pick it up for reruns too.
Part of the allure is that it doesn't have much in terms of sexual dialogue, so that boosts the ratings.

Don K. said...

It's not in Arizona because theere's so much dust, even Reese would get fingered after a while.

RCP said...

"Why doesn’t the Green Goblin operate out of Arizona?"

Because he's a progressive?

I haven't watched this show, but after your review, will make a point of tuning in.

James O'Hearn said...

One type of show I always want to have in my line up is an "Equalizer" style show, where the hero is outside of the system, generally taciturn and willing to take a punch.

I've been in luck lately. There's Burn Notice, Leverage, Person of Interest, and, in a sense, The Finder. Recently there was Human Target. Medium had some of the same vibe. Some time before that was the short lived Dresden Files. And long ago, Kung Fu, The Pretender, Spenser for Hire... I guess that Yojimbo/Zatoichi style anti-hero speaks to me.

My wife and I have found Person of Interest to be appointment viewing. At times it feels like it has shades of The Wire, mixed with the corniness and straight up A-whoopin' of Walker: Texas Ranger.

Michael Zand said...

I gave up watching most JJ Abrams shows, like "Fringe" because of the same contempt for the audience's intelligence. I love high tech sci-fi stuff but even in the most outlandish worlds still have "rules." You still have to operate within the laws of time and space and human behavior.

Although, I have to admit, my latest shameful, guilty pleasure is "Alcatraz." But even that is starting to wear thin. Like in POI, the characters in Alcatraz have the uncanny ability to navigate crosstown rush hour traffic and always arrive at the nick of time. They also arrive at vital conclusions plucked out of thin air.

chuckcd said...

I believe the cameras are already in place and they are hacking into the system.

chuckcd said...

In response to what Mike said:
I love that show Numb3rs with that guy from Northern Exposure.

Wayne said...

The biggest hole for me - the computer knows everything in the world but they have to twist the arm of a crooked cop to run a license plate.

Finch is a billionaire but he can't pay $19 to the company that runs ads on Zillow.

And the biggest fantasy. Billionaire Finch does all his own tech work. No outsourcing even to Americans.

Tom Quigley said...

I had a small role (played a reporter) in an episode of a series back in the 90's, THE PRETENDER, in which the main character had a similar dark background as he went about righting injustices for people who had been wronged -- and the series contained so many uncomfortable reverses of plot and a final TV movie that never expained anything that it missed its chance of ever becoming a huge cult classic.

Nevertheless, I decided to check out POI when it came on to see how close it came to the premise of THE PRETENDER -- not to mention to see if Jim Caviezel could actually convince us that he could play anyone other than the son of a deity (for a good performance by him BTW, watch the movie FREQUENCY).

Yes, there are definitely holes in the show, but like those who spent the whole five years watching LOST, I'm assuming that those of us who continue to hang on are hoping that those inconsistencies will be explained as time goes on -- otherwise we all really need to think harder about getting a life.

D. McEwan said...

I've watched every episode so far, amused but unable to take it seriously. I've been watching it for one reason only: Michael Emerson. I assume at some point we'll find out why they're making him have that limp.

I thought the Alan Dale episode missed a BIG opportunity. Here thay had Ben Linus and Charles Whidmore, those lifelong deadly enemies, rematched, and they only had one scene they were both in, and they stayed about 40 yards apart and never spoke to each other. Some rematch that was.

Speaking as a gay man, I do not find Jim Caveisal even remotely sexy. Sex appeal seems absent from the show. The color palette is so drained and blue that they could have Natalie Wood at 25 on the show, and she'd look drab and unattractive.

The show seems in danger of making the same mistake The Pretender did, though there at least they had a ridiculously sexy man as the star. Michael T. Weiss. Mmmmm. He's what kept me watching it as it fell apart.

The mistake I'm referring to is forgetting that we tune in to see them rescue this week's person of semi-interest. The background story is vastly less interesting. The Pretender let the go-nowhere backstory overwhelm the foreground. (I'm still having trouble, 8 years in, accepting James Denton as a good guy on Desperate Housewives after his majorly evil Pretender character.

POI is drowning in backstories: Finch's family secrets (I don't care), the CIA after Reese (I so don't care), the cop who's gone form eing the perrenial persurer to Robin hte Girl Wonder in record time (Hello?), the dirty cop forced to participate (Yawn), a criminal mastermind on a long arc (I am getting bored). Over on The Mentalist doesn't everyone's interest plummit every time they drag the tiresome, endless Red John storyline back in when we just want to see this week's case?

Oh well, at least Reese and Finch aren't also in a long-arc, will-they/won't-they romance like on Castle and The Mentalist. Or are they?

At least having plotholes so big you can drive through them allows them to get around Manhattan's deadlocked traffic much faster. In last week's epsiode, there was deadly peril on two fronts, we went to commerical on Finch saying: "I don't think we have time to save them both." Turned out they did, owing to, I don't know, a Star Trek transporter?

But rest assured it's coming back. It's a big hit and getting excellent ratings.

The Ames Family said...

D. McEwan - It is not safe by a long shot. Yes, it is pulling in decent ratings (average 12 million or so per week), but CBS wants higher for a Thursday nigt 9pm time slot. And the demos (18-49)are horrible. It's bad enough that the current storyline of bringing in the cop was thought up by the network in an effort to bring in viewers. Network interference in a show is definitely NOT a good sign. So we'll see. I've read it's 50/50, maybe 60/40 to get renewed.

Kirk said...

Only the Marvel superheroes live in Manhattan. The DC ones live in fictional cities (Metropolis, Gotham City, etc.) Manhattan DOES exist in the DC universe, but the superheroes only bother with it and other real-life cities if they're working together as the Justice League of America. As for the Marvel universe, with everybody living in Manhattan, it's odd how certain superheroes only fight certain supervillians. For instance, the Fantastic Four never seem to cross paths with Green Goblin, Spider-Man never fights Magneto, Daredevil doesn't bother with the Red Skull, etc (yes, I read a lot of comic books growing up.)

A couple of years ago, I worked as Christmas help at Macy's. During orientation they took us into the security room, and we got to see all the screens. I knew such rooms existed, and I'm sure it comes as no surprise to any of you who work in television, but seeing it all close up like that rather startled me, what with the security guy nonchalantly zooming in so close that a person's face would fill an entire screen. While I'm sure some of the customers are dimly aware they're being watched, do they know to what extent that they've become the stars of their own TV shows, albeit with a rather limited audience? And it doesn't stop with the inside of the store. Even in the farthest reaches of the parking lot, the securty guy could zero in on a couple getting into a car, and sharing a kiss before driving away. So, whether Person of Interest is realistic or not, the watchers are watching us even more than we know.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

The reason I think he is part Batman as well (which I mentioned before) is the fact he can get beaten up without getting into hospital. How many broken ribs does this guy have? Goind into a room full of gangsters and kicking them all unconscious before they can shoot him? How is he not a superhero?

D. McEwan said...

"The Ames Family said...
D. McEwan - I've read it's 50/50, maybe 60/40 to get renewed."

And I've read that it's 100% safe.

D. McEwan said...

I just rechecked. Last week, Persons of Interst was rated #8. That makes it the 4th highest rated show on CBS. They know perfectly well that it's not going to beat American Idol, but it's a solid, steady performer for CBS. Last week, against Idol, it matched its previous season high. It is 100% safe. CBS does not cancel shows in the Top Ten.

Paul Duca said...

Tell that to Red Skelton, or Bridget and Bernie.

D. McEwan said...

Red Skelton's dead, as are the people who ran CBS when they took his show off the air 42 years ago. It had run for 20 YEARS! There were over 600 episodes. It wasn't exactly cut down in its prime. More like Euthenasia.

Bridget Loves Bernie went off the air 40 years ago. The number of network execs runninng CBS now who were running it then are ZERO! It's like blaming William Paley for broadcasting Survivor. Totally irrelevant and meaningless argument. How many shows has the CURRENT CBS brass cancelled while they were in the Top Ten? Limit yourself to THE LIVING!

Marvin said...

Good post Ken, I agree with you.

Pete Grossman said...

Exactly! POI has The Equalizer vibe. I enjoy the show as well. It is compelling even with all those Airbus-sized holes in it. My question is (he says trying to suspend disbelief) is how does the freaking computer prioritize? There's gotta be a lot of serious crimes happening at the same time. Call me crazy.

gottacook said...

D. - I think Mr. Duca was tweaking you a bit. Of course circumstances were different then; when there were only three national networks and no competing electronic entertainments, CBS could afford to (for example) take all its remaining "rural" shows - The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Hee Haw - off the air in 1971 despite their still-substantial popularity and try a different direction. In today's environment such a thing would never occur.

(I know that Hee Haw went on to many years' worth of new episodes in syndication, but the days when an off-network series could have a new life in syndication seem to be over, and other than Southland on TNT, I can't think of a recent example of new production of a series that was originally network.)

Person of Interest doesn't interest me although I think Emerson is great.

Simon Dunn said...

My biggest problem with Person of Interest is that Mr Nolan has lifted the entire premise from his Dark Knight screenplay.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Sadly, Ken, that technology (as others have pointed out) is not much of a stretch. In the wake of 2001 enormous numbers of CCTV cameras went up in NYC and DC, and there are ubiquitous cellphones, webcams, god knows what. It's estimated that in London, the CCTV capital of the world, people are caught *on average* 200 times a day.

As for the crime-predicting stuff, there's a guy at the University of Pennsylvania (recently written up in The Atlantic) who does exactly this kind of thing. We are in the era of Big Data and algorithms that search huge masses of apparently unrelated stuff and find patterns that humans wouldn't be able to see. Very Philip K. Dick and Minority Report; but there's an awful lot of testing of the algorithms to go before anyone can say whether they're any more reliable than psychics or whether they embed endemic prejudices, etc.

Stll hating the new captchas

Chris said...

Friday questions: a lot of shows don't seem to be as good as they were when they reach season 6-7 and they begin to lose fans, are showrunners aware of that and are usually trying to fix the situation, or is there a point where you need to start going in different directions with the show, so it doesn't become boring.

Barry Traylor said...

"The Ames Family said...
D. McEwan - I've read it's 50/50, maybe 60/40 to get renewed."

"And I've read that it's 100% safe."

I seem to recall that NCIS started as a show that almost no one noticed but has certainly stuck around.

Blaze said...

Whenever a critique starts with "plot holes you could drive a (big thing) thru", I cringe. (You're just the latest one today, so I'm not lambasting you in particular) Their reasons then stumble three ways:

1) Ignorance of the world. "They're based in New York and over the commercial break, they're suddenly in Boston! Sneer! How?" "They took an airplane." "A what?" "An airplane. A flying machine people use to travel." "Well, I never heard of an 'airplane'? How do they expect the average viewer to know such crazy things?"

2) Not paying attention. "She just picked up the phone and called the mayor directly. That's just silly!" "She's the mayor's daughter." "What? When did they reveal that?" "In the first episode." "Well, they shouldn't be so obscure and make it clearer."

3) They really don't like the show. "How did they get across the city so fast in gridlock traffic? That's so unrealistic!" "That cop show you watch all the time does that." "Yeah, well...the cop on that show is cute. This guy is ugly and has a funny moustache."

Usually I blame sloppy editing for "plot holes". Since the accessibility of DVD Extras, "We don't need the scene showing the heroes frustrated and trying to speed thru traffic. Just cut straight to them being there."

cadavra said...

"other than Southland on TNT, I can't think of a recent example of new production of a series that was originally network."

FUTURAMA was picked up by Comedy Central after Fox let it go. You could also make a case that TBS rescued Conan O'Brian from NBC, since it's virtually the same show.

Tom Mason said...

I like POI too, despite its flaws. But it's not hard for me to suspend disbelief with the camera stuff.

From The NYTimes (2010): "...Police Department’s first move was to review footage from cameras between 51st and 34th Streets — all 82 of them. And those are just the cameras the city owns."

In 1998, Wikipedia says NYC already had 3000 CCTV cameras on line. In 2005, a report by the NYCLU had the number of cameras pegged at 4500, with another 500 set to be installed. And that was 7 years ago, so I'll bet that number's increased.

And as other commenters pointed out, the number for NY doesn't include security cameras in office buildings, retail outlets, apartment buildings, etc.

Wikipedia also says that currently there are something like 4 million cameras throughout the UK.

Other shows like NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, the CSIs and more all regularly use easy camera access as a part of their plots, so it's become the new normal.

Unknown said...

I bet the only thing they'd have to do is have Emerson have an episode of "Hawaii 5-0" on in the background and you'd be done with the show...

NikeN said...

With the show focused on Jin and Locke.

Pasadenan said...

Why does Reese whisper like Clint Eastwood?

Finch walks with a limp, but one episode had him jogging in the park. ???

Ron Kaplan said...

Thank you! I don't know how this is one of the most popular programs around, unless that's just CBS network BS.

On thing that always astounds me. Reese is always talking to Finch via his ear piece/whatever, but no one ever hears him, no matter how crowded the situation. Do they think he's just nuts and leave him alone? Or does he speak at a frequency only Finch can hear?

And does Det. Carter ever do any real police work? Seems all she does now is answer her cell phone and do Finch/Reese's bidding.

MacEwen Patterson said...

So, I always wonder who actually watches these "top-rated" shows. I had hopes for this and after three episodes had to stop. Watching a show where somewhere between 23 per cent and perhaps as much as 35 per cent of the final footage is Jim Caviezel half-hidden from view, just got tired. Worked on the Lone Ranger when I was four and five, not so much now I'm 40. Is this going a second season?

selection7 said...

The cameras thing doesn't bother me at all. PoI is science-fiction to me. Maybe tech-fiction would be a better word, but once you accept that what goes on in their world doens't have to be what goes on in our world, it's all good. I laugh whenver Caviezal holds his hand to his ear and talks loudly over his bluetooth. It's ridiculous, but it's also clear they're doing that so the home viewer will get that he's talking on the phone even though he not holding one...and wants us to hear his dialog. It's done for our sake, after all, not the result of clueless writing. I'm always more worried about character "plot holes". When your character has to do something so stupid just to introduce drama, that they'd have never made to age 40 alive if they were actually that stupid, then I get dissapointed. ..."too stupid to live" moments. It insults the viewer and is lazy writing. I won't accept that it's just an alternate reality social-scifi where people do things that are unreasonably stupid.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how the machine can identify someone whom is about to be killed, yet offers no information about who is going to do the killing.

Unknown said...

Ok, so I have a really big question here
When John Reese and Mark Snow are in a bus with that woman who put bomb vests on them, why didn't they defuse the bombs and go away???! It's not like the woman would detonate 2 semtex bombs right next to her... Plot Hole