Intelligence Series Premiere Review: In Need of an Update
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 i
ntelligence 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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