I'll forgive you if your mind wandered during the first 25 minutes of CBS' Person of Interest, which consisted mostly of a backstory info-dump (also known as a pilot episode's Kryptonite—or in this case, whatever scares Batman). But then John Reese (Jim Caviezel) interrupted an arms deal in a shady back room (where only the best arms deals take place), shot half-a-dozen white Bone Thugz in the quadriceps, grabbed a duffle o' heavy guns, hailed a cab, got out on a street corner, shot a frickin' smoke grenade through the windshield of a speeding SUV and sent it sliding like a Bambi on ice, blasted the dirty cops who crawled out of the SUV in the legs, and saved his target. Boom! You bad guys just got Person of Interest-ed! And Reese did it all at the same temperature as ever-cool movie heroes Steve McQueen and Charlie Bronson. Television, meet your new American badass.
The pilot episode of Person of Interest was by no means flawless, but the series has the potential to really do justice to the great action procedurals of yore. The idea of a hero with a shady past partnering with a billionaire who's looking to make the world a better place is nothing new, but what's the problem with recycling a premise if you do it well? Answer: There is no problem! This is classic storytelling from the guy (Jonathan Nolan) who wrote the new Batman movies, and it feels fresh in the face of today's ensemble procedurals. I'll tune in once a week to watch a dude and his weird rich friend play out all my Grand Theft Auto fantasies.
I'm not sure how it happened, but it didn't take long for me to see Reese and Mr. Finch as characters rather than familiar actors playing roles. I'm fairly familiar with Caviezel, mostly for his work in one of my favorites, The Thin Red Line. And having seen Lost about 14 times all the way through, Emerson is permanently etched in my brain as the guy who let his daughter die. But his ability to become Mr. Finch surprised me. It wasn't Ben Linus we saw limping around and annoying Reese into a partnership, it was Mr. Finch. That certainly helped me to just try to enjoy the series rather than nitpick over the typical problems we see with most drama pilots—especially ones where character backstory is key.
The writers ripped the band-aid off for twenty minutes, which is merely a second in the life of a TV series, by laying most of the exposition on us early. It was painful, but in order for this series to work, viewers need to get over the fact that these two dudes are doing some crazy shit and get on board with them being partners in the completely insane idea that they can clean up New York with the help of some advanced binary code. It's a leap of faith, sure, but it's only a bunny hop compared to believing Rachel Bilson is a heart surgeon or that three dudes wouldn't be at each other's throats trying to sniff the used towels of their new roommate Zooey Deschanel. Once you take that step, you'll see Person of Interest's potential as a six or seven-season series that delivers case-of-the-week closure and opens up a long mystery about who these badasses really are and where their crime-prediction machine fits into the larger story. That said, if you'd rather just see a lone gunman shoot bad guys, Person of Interest has you covered on that front, too.
In the hands of the right people, action sequences on network television can be just as good as they are anywhere else. And the hands of the Person of Interest stunt team probably have "GUNS" and "ACTION" tattooed across their knuckles in Olde English. The grenade launcher, the flash grenade in the dirty cop's car plus the five rounds in the back, and the ridiculously awesome and tense showdown outside the elevator almost made me forget that Human Target got canceled. There's a gaping void of good action on television, and it definitely needs fillin'. I can't be the only out there who longs for the days of man shows like The Equalizer.
Person of Interest is a throwback to those kinds of shows, but with its tasty high-tech center, it's also one of the more forward-thinking programs I've seen recently. It captures the paranoia of being watched at all times by our nosy government, Google, and those spies who've infiltrated my webcam. And that feeling is conveyed with a fantastic look; the security camera P.O.V. transitions had me looking over my shoulder, and the abundance of extras and crowded spaces during Finch and Reese's walk-and-talks reminded me that Person of Interest's themes reflect the invasion of privacy in society and the concern that the person you just brushed shoulders with could be in danger—or dangerous. An all-you-can-ingest information buffet may be a few clicks away, but there's still so much we don't know about people. It's nice to know that Reese is out there figuring everything out for us and that some doctor who specializes in bullet wounds to the quadriceps has dollar signs in his eyes.
– I know some people give Caviezel's performance grief, but I think he's playing Reese just fine. Reese is a broken man; don't expect him to be charming right off the bat.
– At what point did you realize that Natalie Zea's character was the one pulling all the strings? Were you fooled?
– How will Taraji P. Henson's character be used down the line? Will she eventually be working with Finch and Reese, or will she be in endless pursuit chasing the Batman?
– A real jerk would shoot people in the knees, causing massive damage and requiring lots of rehab. But Reese is nice. What a guy!
– Is Massive Attack's "Angel" versatile, or what?
– I'm crossing my fingers this series turns out to be as good as has the potential to be.
In Case You Missed It:
– Creator Jonathan Nolan and showrunner Greg Plageman dropped some serious knowledge on me in an interview I conducted just before the show's premiere. Those guys are like... what's the word? Oh yeah, smart.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom