Intelligence Series Premiere Review: In Need of an Update

By Tim Surette

Jan 08, 2014

Intelligence S01E01: "Pilot"

CBS has taken Google Glass to the extreme with Intelligence, its new action thriller starring Josh Holloway. The man formerly and forever known as Sawyer from Lost plays Gabriel, a Cyber Command Op with a microchip in his brain that allows him to surf the web and download satellite feeds with his mind. It comes in handy when he needs to beat up bad guys who don't speak English and protect the digital security of the United States, pre-screen new coworkers, or win an argument. But as a gimmick for a new TV show, it needs a big upgrade if Intelligence wants to even approach the level of greatness attained by the show it will most often be compared to, its network brethren Person of Interest. (Note: Intelligence will also be compared to Chuck, but the two series are so wildly different in tone that we should stop... unless Gabriel goes undercover at a Subway.) I was much higher on Intelligence when I watched the pilot over the summer, but after re-watching it spending more time thinking about it, I'm having more and more doubts. 

But don't worry! Intelligence isn't a bad show, in fact, it's exactly the kind of entertainment that CBS has made a fortune on: Good guys knocking the turbans off of bad guys, basically. And if we look at Intelligence from that angle, it's exactly as expected and a perfectly fine way to spend an hour of time in front of the television. It has the star we all want to see in Holloway, it has babes for all ages in Meghan Ory and Marg Helgenberger, it has fancy computer graphics and techy mumbo-jumbo to assist high-stakes operations, and most importantly, it has Holloway punching and shooting bad guys.

However, since Intelligence is relying on technology as one of its main hooks (after Holloway's square jaw), the show's use of tech is open to the scrutiny of nitpickers like me. Based on the pilot, it doesn't seem like this fusion of man and machine has been particularly well-thought-out. It appears that Intelligence will use Gabriel's special "enhancements" as they serve the story, turning his gadget-brain on and off at will instead of letting Gabriel use it like he would in real life, which is ALL THE TIME. If he needs to open an electronic lock while in the custody of some nasty Pakistani militants, as was the case in the show's cold open, voila! [mind connects to Pakistani hideout Wi-fi, hacks Pakistani security controls] And then *click*, it's open! However, if he needs to open up some satellite imaging (i.e. Google Maps) to detect that he's running toward a dead-end cliff, as he also should have done later in the cold open, then he'll forget that he's got Google Glass in his brain. But whatever, because the decision to ignore his high-tech abilities in that moment paid off in a sweet cliff jump into a river several stories below. And I suspect that's going to be my major gripe with Intelligence going forward: Gabriel might not be always connected as a superweapon like he should be, because the laws of TV will get in the way. On paper, Gabriel cliff diving sounded way cooler for an action thriller than the more practical move of Gabriel charting the easiest route back to America via his Maps app, so a high dive it was.

And if Gabriel is pinned down in a shootout with some Chinese bad guys in a blacklit paintball arena (did a CBS producer have a Groupon for that place or something?), as he was later in the episode, the writers will add heart-pounding tension with an out-of-place satellite that needs to be realigned in order for Gabriel to power up and register heat signatures and a three-dimensional rendering of the building. This was essentially the horror-movie trope of "I can't get a cell-phone signal!" except taken all the way up to the most technologically advanced branch of the U.S. Government. What was that satellite doing if it wasn't focused on Gabriel—trying to get free Cinemax? The scene was a near-miss that felt artificially added to a bland television show rather than part of a smart, escapist, near-future sci-fi series that obsesses over its science. I haven't watched Intelligence's second episode yet, but I hear a similar reception hiccup occurs when Gabriel is in... an elevator (ugh).

The most disappointing about Intelligence's series premiere was its lack of intelligence ambition. You'd think a show about a man with a compute-o-brain would delve into the philosophical implications of a man with a compute-o-brain. Nope. As of now, Intelligence plays Gabriel's power as a cool parlor trick with no downsides (except for the normal gripes we all have about cell phone coverage). He's just a guy who happens to be able to mentally Wikipedia, he's not a cornucopia of existential questions concerning the union of man and machine. When I first heard the idea for this show, I immediately wanted to see how having a super Wi-fi microchip in a man's brain would mess him up. To me, that's the more interesting idea, certainly more interesting than how the chip makes him badass. (Fox's Almost Human suffered a similar problem, in that it started out as just a cop show with a futuristic paint job.) And really, if this is how Gabriel's ability will be portrayed, is he that much different than if he was just a normal dude wearing one of those corny Bluetooth headsets, but with a guy who told him everything on the other end? Aside from the "virtual evidence walls" he walks around in (which are totally cool), Gabriel and his mighty microchipped brain aren't a whole lot different than a Delta Force soldier wearing the contact lens version of Google Glass. It seems like a missed opportunity if you ask me, but I will now take the opportunity to remind myself that this was just the pilot, and maybe the smart, engrossing stuff is yet to come.

After all, Intelligence DOES have enough going on elsewhere to make it watchable. Can I just say how happy I am that Holloway is back on television? The guy is as charismatic as they get, and his "Bizarro Sawyer" character of Gabriel, who's two-thirds good guy and one-third bad guy as opposed to Sawyer's two-thirds bad/one-third good, has enough of a rebellious streak in him that Holloway can play him almost exactly like he played Sawyer. Ory certainly isn't a strain on the eyes as Riley, Gabriel's new handler, and if these two aren't having sex by the season finale, it'll be the most unrealistic thing about the show. Their relationship doesn't break any ground; he needs to be reined in and she's the stickler-slash-bodyguard who's tasked with controlling him for CyberCom and Roboboss Lillian (Helgenberger). But tried-and-true, I guess? 

If there's one thing to get really excited about with Intelligence, it's what transpired in the pilot's fading moments, as the Chinese lady who got upgraded with the other super-microchip woke up after what we thought was a botched implant surgery. That's the best evidence we have that Intelligence actually has a plan beyond the elevator pitch ("Josh Holloway kicks people's butts with help from his computer brain!") that got the show greenlit in the first place. Who knows, maybe it will go somewhere and that woman will have a mental Bing-off with Gabriel or they'll join forces to become some dual-processor superperson. That idea alone will keep me invested through the first four episodes, at least. 

So, Intelligence: strong actors, a decent amount of punching and shooting, and a major idea that's not fully realized yet. So far we've only seen the pilot, but a pilot is supposed to give viewers a good idea of what the series will become, and right now the series is only about a badass who avoids the middleman that is an iPhone. Show us how the new tech has changed Gabriel and what it means on a philosophical level, and you've got an interesting series. Otherwise, it's just another CBS shoot-'em-up.


– That's Zuleikha Robinson as Gabriel's wife, and I'm contractually obligated as a TV journahack to mention that this makes Intelligence a Lost reunion. Lance Reddick (Lost's Abaddon) is also booked as a guest star. 

– Speaking of the wife, what do we all think of that plot? So she was a government agent who turned? Except maybe she didn't? And maybe she's dead? Except definitely she's alive? And Lillian doesn't want Gabriel looking for her, except she also does? 

– In this Hollywood Reporter interview, Intelligence producers Tripp Vinson and Michael Seitzman implied that the ramifications of fusing man and machine would be explored in the series, but if that idea was such a big part of the show, wouldn't they have dropped a hint of it in the pilot? 

– It totally makes sense that a top-secret, government-created man-machine who's alone on the Pakistan-India border would make sure his hair looked okay after he took off his hat. 

– Anyone else bummed that Amos was the traitor? Or should we be relieved that Intelligence didn't keep the "goofy IT dude" character around? 

– Here come the nerd jokes! Amos, when Gabriel found Riley's naughty photos: "Don't worry, he can't print." Gabriel, when asked how he knew Chinese: "I've got an app for that." Zing! Pow! *slide whistle sound* Those lines were so corny that I truly loved them. 

– Re: Person of Interest comparisons: Isn't Intelligence basically like if Finch and Reese shared the same body but there was no Machine? That's what separates Person of Interest from Intelligence, the uncertain factor that comes from the evolving Machine. 

– Re: Re: Person of Interest comparisons: Placing Intelligence between NCIS and Person of Interest seems about right, doesn't it? 

– Programming update: Don't forget, Intelligence moves to its regular Monday-at-10pm time slot next week, on January 13!

What'd you think of the Intelligence series premiere? Will you be back for Episode 2?

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  • JamesBolen May 20, 2015

    The result is that any wounded warrior with traumatic brain injury could end up 500 to 1000 percent more intelligent than original. My wife says I pick up too many computer viruses to test it safely.

  • JamesBolen May 20, 2015

    Chiefimagineer=1950 The concept of a microprocessor in the form of a polished, leadless chip carrier package that can safely rest on the surface of the gray matter dates back to about 2000. the nerves supply more than enough operating voltage, and acts more like Johnny Mnemonic.

  • BG2heu Jan 12, 2015

    WHY DID YOU CANCEL? THIS SHOW HAD SO MUCH POTENTIAL. Don't you think there needs to be a Character that makes the rounds into every other show,stays for a few weeks and moves on to the next? What a concept!!
    'Intelligence' was a year ago, and I am still trying to think how they can improve it and bring it back. .... But they never will.

  • gzeigler3 Jan 20, 2014

    Yes, I was pretty bummed at Amos being the bad guy, but what a twist to hit us with in just the pilot. Anybody else hoping for crossover episodes with Person of Interest?

  • Elephant17 Jan 16, 2014

    Huge ripoff of continuum including the tech, the importance of humanity trusting itself over technology and even the paintball scene. Come on cbs come up with something original. Of course they are just giving their complacent Neanderthal viewers what they want

  • geoffmaze Jan 14, 2014

    Have to give CBS a BIG F U for scheduling this show at the same time as the Blacklist and Archer for that matter.

  • Swinglabacase Jan 12, 2014

    The first purpose of a pilot is to introduce the main characters and give the viewers and idea of what the show is about. I think Intelligence did that. I don't remember POI's pilot being "so much" better.
    I believe the show has a lot of potential and we'll see after 3 or 4 episodes if it holds. The only thing that I saw which could hurt/kill the show is the "second chip" plot line. They are doing the same thing on POI: bringing a second machine... If it is just a short story branch then it's ok. If they want to make these permanent it can kill both shows and probably will. It will be less of a lost for Intelligence because it's just starting but we got kind of attached to POI's characters ( I still miss Taraji).
    Strangely enough, I was expecting Root (or Finch, or even Reese) to eventually become connected to the Machine in Gabriel's way of some sort. Maybe not a chip but through some kind of electro-telepathic device the Machine would design.
    Does anybody else think that POI, if managed well, could very well become a great prequel to Cameron's Terminator? ;)
    Eagerly waiting for the next episodes of Intelligence to see how it goes... I hope it won't let us down like The Blacklist did.

  • tnetennba Jan 12, 2014

    Most of you are far too negative in my opinion. I would agree that a lot of what we saw was silly, but it's still nowhere near the level of silliness that we get on The Blacklist, and people aren't tearing that show apart on the review pages.

    I dislike procedurals a lot more than most people, but there's a lot of potential for serialized storytelling here. There will certainly be a lot of cases of the week, but if they want to get away from that, there are a number of different ideas they can explore: Bad people trying to steal the chip or develop their own. The wife story. The chipped chinese woman. Software upgrades and side effects.

    The fact that the sci-fi technology on this show gives them lots of information means that we won't have to watch the thing I hate the most about procedurals: interview scenes. There won't be a lot of "where were you between 8 and 9 PM Tuesday night?" because they have another way of finding answers. This is something they probably learned from POI.

  • FarrShadow Jan 12, 2014

    I have to disagree with two statements from this review: 1) "Intelligence will also be compared to Chuck, but the two series are so wildly different in tone that we should stop" and 2) "it's exactly the kind of entertainment that CBS has made a fortune on: Good guys knocking the turbans off of bad guys, basically. And if we look at Intelligence from that angle, it's exactly as expected and a perfectly fine way to spend an hour of time in front of the television."

    My reasoning:
    1) Intelligence is pretty clearly the drama version of Chuck, only if Bryce Larkin had received the intersect rather than Chuck Bartowski getting it. This is much like how The Mentalist is the drama version of Psych, only if Shawn Spencer was no longer pretending to be psychic. While that is a bit of an oversimplification, Intelligence has many of the same overall story aspects that Chuck has and even some of the humor elements (like the cheesy "I have an app for that" line referenced in the review). The biggest difference between Chuck and Intelligence is that from the pilot forward, Chuck actually addressed how this was changing Chuck's life and he was no longer the same man he was before he got the fateful e-mail. As noted in the review, there's no sign yet that Gabriel is any different than he was before despite being the one person in the world (at least at first) who had this sort of technology implanted in him. This goes beyond the tech itself and the points made in the review - it's also the fact that Gabriel is so important that he should have a team protecting him. Obviously, that's what Riley character is for, but this did not seem to be part of the plan for Gabriel prior to the surgery. Why would that not be part of what Gabriel has to agree to BEFORE the chip is implanted? The very second Chuck had the intersect in him, he had both an NSA agent and a CIA agent assigned to him. He had to contend with the mental effects of having a supercomputer in his brain AND the fact that he now has handlers who have forever changed his life.

    2) While, on the surface, this statement may seem true (a lot of action taking down the bad guys), there is not a CBS show on the air now with half as many plot holes in it. Whether it's one of the NCIS shows, CSI, The Mentalist, Criminal Minds, or so on, they are much more thought out than Intelligence. Hostages was the only CBS show with similar plot holes and even that was much more thought out. For instance, regardless Of what Lillian's belief of Ameilia, there is absolutely no way that Lillian would give Gabriel, the lovelorn apparent widower, the only billion dollar computer chip of its kind. I know that was addressed in the pilot (sort of) by Riley asking that question, but the lack of an answer from Lillian is an admission from the writers that this wasn't very logical. Second, why dismiss Dr. Cassidy - the only person who is apparently smart enough to merge biology with technology and therefore the only person who could troubleshoot any issues that are not tech related? The answer is that it's a clunky way of having a messy backstory and a potential motive for Nelson Cassidy to possibly be the kidnapper. Third, why create another chip after you've been fired? Fourth, when no one had been told about this new, second chip, how did the bad guys know about it? Fourth, who were these bad guys, really? Their names were given, but that's pretty much it. What kind of organization is this and what are they trying to do? Seemed like a cartoonish way of creating the evil organization. Fifth, just what kind of plan was this? Kidnap the doctor and make him install an untested chip into a subject (who also has this rare, genetic mutation that they just mentioned as an aside to explain why there's not an army of these robocops). You can't really kill the doctor after the operation for the same reasons that Lillian shouldn't have fired him. So, you're just going to keep him employed by you with the hope that Lillian and her team will never be able to find him? And when the woman doesn't wake up five seconds after the surgery, you assume that it's clearly a failure and the doctor screwed up despite the fact that he warned you that there's no way to know when she'll wake up. Sixth, when you had no patience for this new woman, you decide to slice into Gabriel to get his chip with the expectation that it would just be easy to get to him after everything that has played out and that you'd actually get away with it. Seventh, it actually was that easy because Lillian decided that having Gabriel and the injured Riley alone at the safe house was enough protection when someone had just taken a shot at Gabriel.

    I could go on, but the point to #2 is that there are so many holes in the pilot's plot that it makes Hostages look like Shakespeare. Intelligence got the NCIS lead in, which makes the pilot a hit. But, it's about to go up against The Black List (which was not good for Hostages). Add to it the fact that there are all these issues to the plot and it'll be interesting to see how the ratings play out. Intelligence may get more of a "being on CBS" bump than Hostages did, so maybe it will find a groove that will allow it to succeed, but it does need to get better.

  • edshrinker Jan 12, 2014

    Anyone else annoyed CBS calls this the #1 New Drama? After 1 episode? Ok - the ratings were solid. Awesome! I'm glad! (it IS Sawyer after all). So it won the night on it's premiere night. Just makes me feel like networks find us all so damn stupid and that saying that will make me feel like it is better than it is.

  • edshrinker Jan 27, 2014

    Yeah. Barely gets a mention in promos now. "New Drama" is the best they can do. Suck it CBS. Although I hate it I am right about this show. Love Josh Holloway. Hope he winds up in Justice League.

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