Has there ever been a series that squandered its premise as much as Person of Interest?
Two soldiers of fortune – one brains, one brawn – have access to The Machine, a government network that not only sees what everyone in the country is doing, but has been given enough sentience to analyze their moves and motives and predict their actions.
And this is a good thing.
The premise alone drew me to it and has kept me going through two seasons, while I waited for The Machine to turn into SkyNet from the Terminator movies. The times – Wikileaks and the disturbing NSA revelations about the government hacking emails and such – have even played into the writers’ hands.
They’ve dipped their toes into current-events-driven paranoia (last week’s episode introduced a human organization not unlike The Machine itself, a clandestine anti-government group that can apparently sabotage anything electronic. If their leader turns out to have white hair, look for Julian Assange to sue).
And then, of course, there’s the super-villain Root (Amy Acker), who seems to have mind-melded with The Machine, and is currently in a psychiatric ward for declaring she’s in touch with a “higher power.”
But for the most part (a Season 2 sub-plot about it suffering a virus aside), The Machine has narratively been used like Charlie in Charlie’s Angels – delivering details of the victim-of-the-week to Reese (Jim Caviezel) and Finch (Michael Emerson), and their new, trigger-happy partner Shaw (Sarah Shahi).
This is the difference between cable and network TV, and between a show with a predetermined end and one without. Person Of Interest is a largely stand-alone action series about do-gooder mercenaries – kind of The Equalizer with surveillance cameras - which the old-school TV business plan demands (it’s easier to sell in syndication that way). The subplots move glacially slowly.
That said, CBS has announced that Root and The Machine will reunite Tuesday in some fashion, which gives me hope something, ANYTHING, earth-shaking could actually happen.
Interestingly, another series returning Tuesday – CW’s Biblically-riffed action series Supernatural – can hardly be accused of putting off earth-shattering events. The eighth season concluded with all the angels in Heaven falling from the sky like the Perseids meteor shower. This, after seasons that gave us Armageddon, the release of the Leviathans, a civil war in Heaven, and a rogue demon named Crowley (Mark Sheppard) who usurped the throne of Lucifer.
All of it continues to be handled – a la Buffy The Vampire Slayer - with aplomb, wisecracks and scattershot pop-culture references by the squabbling, demon-hunting Winchester brothers, Sam and Dean (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles).
Nine seasons of this, and it never bores me. Supernatural has a handful of stand-alone episodes every season to appease the network bean-counters come re-run time. But it remains story-driven and never backs away from blowing up the world real good.