I was sold from the moment I first saw a promo for Person of Interest on CBS. See, I’m not a huge fan of cop show procedurals and their kin; I’m more of a genre television-type of gal. But here was a show created by Jonathan Nolan (co-screenwriter of several films directed by his brother Christopher including The Prestige and The Dark Knight), produced by JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot, and starring The Count of Monte Cristo and “that guy from Lost.”
So what is Person of Interest, you ask? Well, it’s kind of a crime show, a sci-fi show, and a superhero show all rolled into one. Do you like Batman? Of course you do! Everyone likes Batman! Well, the above Person of Interest characters are basically what would happen if Batman was split into two separate men — Mr. Finch is the wealthy brains of the operation and Mr. Reese is the muscle with, as the Season One credits state, “the skills to intervene.” The premise of the show is that, post 9/11, Harold Finch created a machine for the government that would detect and identify potential acts of terrorism (a part of the show that seemed just fantastical enough during its premiere in 2011, but as of the NSA surveillance leaks in 2013, now places the show on this side of reality.) However, Finch’s machine was able to identify all acts of impending violence, including those that the federal government deemed irrelevant to national security. So, Finch created a back-door in The Machine’s programming that would give him the social security numbers of those involved in any “irrelevant” crimes.
The show functions primarily, especially in its first season, as a procedural. Finch and Reese receive an irrelevant number from The Machine and investigate whether he/she is a potential victim or a perpetrator. However, Person of Interest continues to grow from its procedural roots and is evolving into a more serialized drama. This show rewards its viewers for paying attention by pulling story elements and characters back from past seasons. Everything is connected in a well-planned web of story. The PoI writers respect their audience by refusing to drop major plot lines or to “hand wave” away character development. No — instead, they imbue the show with subtlety, thematic easter eggs, and thorough exploration of thought-provoking topics such as privacy vs. security, the rise of artificial intelligence, and morality. All of this to say, Person of Interest is a show with layers, and its audience reflects that.
CBS is known for its numerous, successful cop procedurals — many of which are watched by an older-skewing demographic. These viewers and their ilk began watching Person of Interest for its action-packed weekly mysteries. But while Season One was generally a procedural with “numbers of the week,” the episodes in Seasons Three and Four each provide fuel to a continuous story arc that permeates the series. There was a point in Season Three when the more casual TV viewers realized what was happening to PoI, and many threatened to jump ship. But the show held fast.
Now, I am grateful that these older viewers continue to watch the show. I can see how they can enjoy it as a more simple show — it has thrilling action, humor, rich characters… But in a world where television shows try to grab your fleeting attention with cheap gags and heavy-handed storytelling, a show as smart and nuanced as Person of Interest deserves a lot more love.
Gen Y-ers! Millenials! Geeks! I implore you to check out this show. We younger viewers grew up watching television programs that were more serialized and mythology-heavy than their episodic predecessors. We are in an age of television where many shows, especially on cable networks, are embracing the serialized model in order to tell more complex stories. Broadcast network television, on the other hand, is still deeply entrenched in the idea that television has to be “broad” in order to be successful. Person of Interest has succeeded in riding the fine line of procedural and serialized television in a way that is fun, intelligent, and utterly satisfying.
My parents text me every week during Person of Interest; it’s a show that we can enjoy together. For years, my family was obsessed with the television series 24. When 24: Live Another Day aired this past year, I watched the first few episodes along with my parents. But I realized that in my heart, Jack Bauer had been supplanted by John Reese. Even as the CTU encountered new troubles each season, it all seemed too similar to me. As I watched 24:LAD, Jack and Chloe felt like caricatures of themselves, and every plot point felt too familiar. I didn’t finish the season.
On Person of Interest, even the standard “number of the week” episodes feel fresh. Team Machine, the moniker given to the show’s core group of heroes by showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman, has undergone line-up changes in both intriguing and devastating ways. The show’s rogues gallery runs deep with characters who reek gravitas and those who turn out to be more than they seem at first blush. Though PoI‘s exciting stories and thematic conversations create a rich universe, it is the show’s amazing characters that make it so enjoyable. In addition to Emerson’s Finch and Caviezel’s Reese, the show boasts an amazing main, supporting, and guest cast including Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Chapman, Amy Acker, Enrico Colantoni, Ken Leung, Camryn Manheim, John Nolan, Carrie Preston, Saul Rubinek, Sarah Shahi, Paige Turco, and many, many more. While I quickly lost interest in the once-beloved characters of 24: Live Another Day for feeling like poor imitations of their former selves, the characters in Person of Interest feel real. It’s a combination of the both acting and the writing that has brought the people who inhabit PoI to full-realization. From the pilot episode on through Season Four, these characters have changed so much, and they interact with the world differently because of it.
I’m not sure this was helpful at all. In fact, I think it was kind of rambly. Was I rambly? I was rambly. So… the TL;DR, as it were:
You should watch Person of Interest. It is funny; it is exciting. It will make you think; it will make you cry. If you’re the kind of person who can’t stand procedurals, stick with it for a season. If you’re not in by mid-way through Season Two, maybe it’s not for you. But I bet you’ll love it by then. And for those of you who prefer episodic television and are worried by my talk of serialization and mythology arcs, trust me, you will fall in love with these characters and become invested in the greater stories they can tell.
Person of Interest is probably my favorite show currently on broadcast television, and is one of my favorite shows of all time. I find it fitting that one of the first posts I ever released onto the world wide web relates to technology and surveillance. For even if no one is actually reading my blog, I know that there is someone, or something, out there that sees it. As Harold Finch intones at the beginning of each episode, “We are being watched.”
Disclaimer: All images shown belong to Warner Bros. Television, the use of which have not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This blog post is for non-commercial criticism and comment purposes only. I believe that this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law.